Seattle Now & Then: The Labor Temple

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: “In what was then a neighborhood of hotels and apartments Seattle’s Labor Temple opened in 1905 at the northeast corner of 6th Avenue and University Street. (Pic courtesy Lawton Gowey)
NOW: “The 36 floors of One Union Square were completed in 1981. What distinguished the structure at that time was it’s aluminum skin, which is still stormtight and shining.”

Throughout the first anxious year of World War Two, the local Federation of Labor Unions completed the construction of their new Labor Temple at the northeast corner of First Avenue and Clay Street, and in the fall of 1942 the member unions – nearly 50 of them – moved to it from their old quarters here at 6th Avenue and University Street.

Reporting on the move, the Post-Intelligencer noted that the old temple would continue to be used for some union meetings until the return of peace permitted an auditorium to be fitted into the new Belltown building.  The P-I also reflected “most of the important meetings and outstanding decisions made by Seattle labor leaders since 1905 have taken place in the old temple.  The general strike in February of 1919 was planned in the building . . . The streetcar motorman’s strike during the last war was also called from the building.”

The Labor Temple, left of center, seen from First Hill. This view of it was used in "Seattle 1900 to 1920," Rich Berner's first of three books on Seattle in the first half of the 20th Century. See below.

The 1905 dedication at 6th and University was two blocks south and four years late.  At the conclusion of the 1901 Labor Day parade a few thousand celebrants gathered at 6th and Pike (not University) to lay the cornerstone for the Western Central Labor Union’s new temple.  William H. Middleton, its optimistic president told the crowd, “In the name of the organized labor, in the name of the great trades union movement and in the name of the Western Central Labor Union, I dedicate this temple for the use of organized labor.  May peace be within its walls and good will always extend to mankind.”

Several strikes and considerable strife between industrial and trade-based labor followed and probably confused the first attempts at building a temple.  Retired U.W. archivist Rich Berner’s first of three books on 20th Century Seattle is the best source for following the labor fireworks of those years.  Now a new illustrated edition of Berner’s “Seattle 1900-1920” can be read free on-line on this blog (click here to download – Rich’s complete book approaches 28 MB, which takes 20 seconds to download with cable, but possibly more time with slower connections) or purchased in hard copy at the University of Washington Book Store.  All proceeds after expenses go to the non-profit encyclopedia of Washington State history,

Here’s a larger rendering of the book’s cover.


Well, Paul, on this day after Christmas, I thought it appropriate to drag out a production we did together several years ago. It is, of course, our audio dramatization of O’Henry’s THE GIFT OF THE MAGI, which you narrated and I produced for Feliks Banel’s Holiday Express show on KBCS-FM, hearkening back to my days as a radio theatre impresario for NPR. For those who long for yet one more tidbit of Christmas, enjoy.  The rest of you can just cool your heels till next year.

Now, your turn, Paul.  Anything to add?

Jean, mostly another encouragement for readers to check out the book Seattle 1900 – 1920.  It is stuffed with illustrations that are almost always shown on or very near the pages to which they are most relevant.

As you know Jean, Rich begins his 10th decade this coming New Years Eve, Dec. 31.  He will be 90 years old.  Since they cannot find anything wrong with him he may be around until 112.  Here’s the picture you took last year at Ivar’s Acres of Clams.  We took him for lunch.

Rich Berner at the Acres of Clams Dec. 31, 2009, his birthday, with one candle "holding the candle" for 88 more.
The 1942 clipping from which much of the Labor Temple story above was borrowed.
A "buy a bond" float from WW1, which adds the alternative "or fight." The role of the weighty man at the rear is puzzling. Is he preparing to fight or pay out. Or is he there to hold up Uncle Sam? The photo also includes what is probably an "optical allusion." The curtains blowing vigorousy from the open window on the left, are probably not curtains but mutilated photographic print paper. And there on the flatbed is that Horrible Hun, followed below by a Dicks Drive-In (Wallingford) revolving bun and burger notice for a patriotic meal on Labor Day, 2008.

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