In the 1940s and 50s, during the romantic era of big-time railroading, the Second Avenue depot was the portal from Walla Walla to the outside world, transporting everything from groceries to soldiers. Under the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co. which later became part of the Northern Pacific Railway Co., Walla Walla’s passenger and freight lines connected with Pendleton, Wallula and Eureka. Passenger service died out due to automobiles and freight trucks in 1956, but the depot continued freight service from Milton-Freewater and Wallula until 1984, then under the Burlington Northern Railroad. Though numerous railroad mergers and more advanced modes of transportation eventually left the depot vacant, the railroads passing in and out of Walla Walla made the city the largest trading center of southeastern Washinton and northeastern Oregon. In its heyday, the Second Avenue terminal served as the place for partings as well as the place for reunions.
Built in 1914 for an un-known, the red brick building has undergone a series of improvements, expansions and renovations in its 98 years of existence. Under the ownership of Bill and Jackie Pancake, the building was developed into a small retail center in 1989, aptly named “The Depot.” Renovations were directed after fastidious research into the depot’s architecture and history had been conducted; research that included tracking down the depot’s original, Burlington Northern plans. Efforts to recreate the depot’s old atmosphere and motif were rewarded when the building was named to the National Register of Historic Places, as well as when it won first and second place awards from Walla Walla 2020 and an award from the U.S. Department of Interior in 1989.
Taking into account the historical nature of one of Walla Walla’s landmarks, a vintage 1950s railroad car used by Amtrak until about 1986 was transported from Portland, Ore. and situated by cranes as an addition to Jacobi’s C
afé in 1991. Today, patrons enjoy its period-correct, refurbished interior, which is modeled after a 1916 Pullman dining car.
The depot’s entryway, once the ticket and telegraph room, retains its original maple wood floorboards and houses fully restored passenger benches bearing the manufacturer’s original brass plates. The three-story brick tower originally used for viewing the rail yards and incoming trains still serves as the building’s command post, containing the staff offices and restaurant security systems .
Every effort has been painstakingly made to not only salvage what was already part of the depot, but to bring it back to life and keep it that way. The building was remodeled with the idea that visitors could walk on the same brick sidewalk where thousands gathered to send off soldiers, enter through doors using the original brass push plates, and sit on the same benches that once held waiting passengers. Inside or outside the depot, you should be able to easily imagine you’re amidst the hustle and bustle of the early 1900s.
Vince Cannone came to Walla Walla in 1988, bringing with him the culinary knowledge only a Sicilian heritage and a childhood spent in New York-style restaurants can produce. He and his wife, Kelle, have owned Jacobi’s Café twice during the restaurant’s existence: once from 1989 to 2000 and currently, since it reopened in 2009. Over the years, the Cannone family has carefully and lovingly maintained the depot’s historic charm and aesthetic. They’ve overseen its repairs and updates, and made sure little has been altered or removed. Vince and Kelle’s children, Anthony and Francheska, nearly grew up in the depot, learning the ins and outs of the building and considering it a second home as their parents worked in the kitchen and dining rooms of Jacobi’s Café.
Today, the Cannone family not only operates Jacobi’s from the staff offices, they prepare and cook quality artisanal meals in the kitchen, they bus and wait tables, they greet guests and they always take time to visit with diners. They bring “family owned and operated” to a new level, continually extending their Italian hospitality and feeding guests the hearty, authentic recipes the Cannone family has passed down from generation to generation. When you visit Jacobi’s Café, you are invited to experience the history of one of Walla Walla’s most iconic buildings while you dine like a true Italian; like you’re a part of the family.