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ASAHEL CURTIS, The OTIS & FIRST HILL in THIRDS
(An eariier version of this first appeared in Pacific, March 26, 2001.)
Looking north on Summit Avenue, the towered Otis Hotel on the right holds much of the block between Columbia Street, in the foreground, and Marion Street. By now this historical intersection of Columbia and Summit has been vacated and covered by the Swedish Medical Center.
One might notice while driving through the First Hill neighborhood from Yesler Way to Pike Street that the hill can be divided roughly into three parts. The first section visited, south of James Street, was once known as Profanity Hill for a variety of reasons, including that it was a damn steep climb from Pioneer Square. This first third is, in places, still a little rough.
Skipping to the third area, that north of Madison Street, a few of the old mansions – like the Dearborn manse, now home for Historic Seattle; and the Stimson-Green Mansion; and the Stacy Mansion, long the University Club – from the 1890s still mingle with distinguished high-rise apartment houses from the teens and ’20s. Parts of this First Hill third are still a little rich.
In the middle third between James and Madison, a driver must be careful not to get lost in the maze of Swedish Medical Center. Which brings us again to this intersection, and to repeat again that it cannot be found, except in this “mirror of memory,” the historical photograph. Again, on the right, at 804 Summit Ave., the Otis Hotel stands up and out of the view north across Columbia Street. Further north on Summit, at is southwest corner with Madison Street, is the Adrian Court, a three-story apartment made in part of stone.
The accompanying First Hill detail from the 1912 Baist real estate map shows the Otis, and the Adrian Court, and much else. The panorama printed below was recorded from the south wall of the Perry Hotel. It too can be found on the Baist Map detail, just above and left of the detail’s center, which is somewhat mutilated in the original by long regular use – good and bad.
For all its grand asymmetrical solidity the Otis also symbolizes the volatile history of First Hill development. It has two parts. The closer part, with the frame tower, is designed like an over-sized mansion. But the smaller brick section beyond it seems ready to forsake the neighborhood of mansions for a more modest but sturdy First Hill future of resident hotels and apartment houses. And the Otis did survive into the late 1950s before Swedish, the biggest swell in the “third wave” of First Hill institutions – hospitals -swallowed both it and this intersection.
Asahel Curtis photographed this (the pan at the top) look north on Summit from Columbia. It is two recordings merged in Photoshop. As for the residents in the homes seen in the left panel, I confess that I have not taken time to identify them. Does any reader know?