(click to enlarge photos)
Westlake Avenue was first surveyed in January 1905 – that part of it then first cut through the existing city grid between Pike Street and Denny Way. By November of 1906 the new thruway was paved and being developed to all sides. And the new sides were many. Thru the roughly seven blocks of cutting, nearly 30 odd-shaped building lots and flatiron blocks were exposed, adding imaginative opportunities for cityscape and developers. With its willful path to Lake Union and its eccentric new sides, Westlake was popularly, although not officially, called a boulevard.
Resembling most obviously a buoyant ship (one not sinking), here the American Hotel points its bow north between Westlake Avenue, (on your – the reader’s – right), and the alley between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. The photograph was recorded from the Hotel Plaza, built one floor higher than the American, and set snugly between Westlake, 4th Avenue and Pine Street above its own wedge-shaped footprint. From that foundation the Plaza looked south to the new five-star corner at Pike Street.
With its 70 “reasonably priced” rooms – $3.50 and up for a week – the American expected to service many transient salesmen. But this American had troubles, changing hands twice before it was renamed Hotel Central in 1914 – to make a clear point of its touted location in the “center of everything.” Frank Crampton, the new proprietor in 1910, was especially thorough with his renovations. The Times reported “twenty-three rooms were vacated by undesirable tenants within three days after he assumed charge.” Crampton hoped to fill his hotel with “permanent roomers for the winter.”
At its “stern” or far southern end, the American Hotel was attached to Northern Bank and Trust Company’s also new corner at 4th and Pike. The bank soon added another five stories to reach the height it still holds in Jean’s “repeat.” Late in 1916, the bank confidently advertised, “Eventually many of you will open banking relations with the Northern Bank and Trust Company. Why not now?” The prediction failed and so did the bank in 1919. Another bank, the Seaboard, took hold and named the ornate landmark “at the center of everything” for itself.
Anything to add, Paul? Yes Jean and first a fulfillment of the second “now” you recorded on Westlake that well-lighted day. Remember? you looked south on the sidewalk mid-block toward Pike. Jean have discovered that I wrote a Times feature a few years back that looks in the same direction but from the north side of Pine Street. I’ll include the clipping from that to cover your added now-then as well.
CHANGES ON FOURTH AVENUE NORTH OF PIKE
So far I have never come upon a photograph of the intersection of 4th and Pike taken at the intersection before Westlake Was cut through there to Denny Way in 1906. The Westlake cut is an accomplished feature in the photo below although the street is still a work in progress, and the Plaza Hotel is not completed. Note here the steep rise of Fourth Avenue, on the left, as it climbs the southeast corner of Denny Hill to a horizon this side of Virginia Street.
MORE of FIVE-STAR WESTLAKE at PIKE
We might have simply linked much of what follows to other past features on this blog for we have surely visited this 5-Star corner often over the past few years. And we shall again. Now we will anchor some of these “classics” directly to this feature. Every time we use this old photo or ephemera or that one, we treat them within their new contexts as also somewhat renewed.
(First appeared in Pacific, Nov. 13, 1983)
Both this “now” and “then” look north up Westlake Ave. from the southwest corner of Fourth Ave. and Pike Street. Great things have been expected of this five-star hub since its creation in 1906 when the odd but bold intrusion of Westlake Ave. was at last cut through from Denny Way. (As of this writing  the city is still waiting.)
Our historical setting (above) dates from 1909. All of the larger structures are new and seem to elegantly promise that this unique hub will develop into Seattle’s 20th-century civic center. On the right is the Seaboard Building, which now, with another five stories added, still fills that comer. Just beyond it is the American Hotel, and across Westlake, the Hotel Plaza. The flatiron Plaza stood there until 1931 when it was razed to the first floor level and rebuilt more modestly for Bartell Drugs, which remained a tenant for over 50 years. During the prohibition years a cabaret in the Plaza’s basement was one of the town’s more popular speakeasys.
In our 1909 scene (two up) only a few horses, hacks, and three or four automobiles are at play. The streetcars and people actually own the street, and the former are outfitted with cowcatchers to mercifully ensnare the latter. In 1909 if you stayed off the tracks (and stepped about what the horses left) you were usually free to safely jaywalk or even stand about and converse in the street – like the two men on the right of our scene. (Again, the “scene” two-up.)
If Westlake were continued on south through the central business district (behind the photographer), it would at last meet First Ave. at Marion St. And that was the route for a Lake Union-bound boulevard proposed in 1876 by Seattle doctor and Mayor Gideon Weed. Although the citizens disagreed with Weed’s proposal, they were familiar with this part of the route north of Pike Street for in 1872 a narrow-gauge railroad was cut through the forest here to carry coal from scows on Lake Union to bunkers at the foot of Pike St. The coal cars ran up this draw until 1878 when the route was abandoned for a new coal road to Newcastle that went around the south end of Lake Washington. Then this old railway line, and future Westlake Ave., grew into a shrub-sided path popularly traveled for family picnics at Lake Union. It was called “Down the Grade.”
In 1882 a narrow boardwalk to the lake was built along the old coal railroad line and David Denny’s Western Mill first started Lake Union “working” at its southern end. By the late 1880s the sides of the little valley between Denny and Capitol hills were cleared, and the streets which were laid out across this gentle ravine kept to the city grid. The neighborhood of clapboard apartments and working family homes which developed here was another of Seattle’s many examples of town plats that gave little mind to topography except to surmount it. In 1890 Luther Griffith, Seattle’s young wizard of electric trolleys, purchased 53 lots along the old coal road’s grade, and proposed to cut a multi-use boulevard through the city’s grid directly to Lake Union. The city council disagreed.
However, by the early 1900s the city’s businesses had begun to move north out of Pioneer Square in such numbers that a new city center was desired, and the city engineers went back to the old Westlake proposals. The old route was surveyed in January 1905, and by November of the next year the 90-ft-wide street was paved and completed. This was 30 years since Mayor Weed’s original 1876 proposal.
If this Westlake precedent holds true, then the Westlake Mall, which was first proposed in 1958 and has since been a frustration for five mayors – Clinton, Braman, Miller, Uhlman, and Royer – should be completed in 1988 to the glory of the reelected fifth.
(As it developed Royer was reelected but the more splendid visions for this five-star corner and its “run” to the north were compromised to contingencies of the usual sort, like traffic on Pine Street and commercial urges that were difficult to distinguished from greed. The “invisible hand” acted with neither prudence nor providence.)
THIS PUZZLING MALL
I confess (about nine years ago) to having featured this intersection four times – that I remember – in the last 23 years. So here’s the fifth, and I wonder what took me so long. There are so many delightful photographs taken from this five-star corner looking north on Westlake from Forth and Pike. But this scene with the officer probably counts as a “classic” for it has been published a number of times by other publications and he has not tired of it yet.
It is only recently that I looked closely at the policeman, and I think I have figured out what he is doing. He is scratching his head. Since this is a sign of deep thought – or at least puzzlement – I suggest that the officer here is wondering about the great changes have occurred in the only three or four years before he was sent this afternoon to help with the traffic. (I’m figuring that this is 191o or very near it.) Heading north for Fremont, trolley car number 578 – to the left of the officer – is only two or three years old and so is the Plaza Hotel to the left of it. If the officer returns to this beat in a few years more he’ll probably know that there is a speak-easy running it the hotel basement.
Westlake Avenue was cut through the neighborhood in 1906 along what its planners described as “a low-lying valley, fairly level, with just enough pitch to give it satisfactory drainage.” The plan was to connect it with “a magnificent driveway around the lake.” But then some readers will remember that there have been many magnificent plans for this part of Westlake as well. Beginning in 1960 with the opening of the Westlake Summer Mall — that quickly had its name changed to Seafair Mall — the blocks between Pike and Stewart streets were talked and dreamed over for a quarter century as the best available site for developing a civic center with a wide broad public place for a central business district that somehow wound up without one.
In 1960 one concerned person described the Seafair Mall as “This sorry little bit of pavement with a few planter boxes.” Forty-five years later there are at least more planter boxes.
[It is, again, nightybears time and I must climb the stairs. There remain all in a line a few more permutations on this Westlake theme and perhaps I will slip them in later this afternoon. If not they will keep for another Westlake visit.]
WESTLAKE & FOURTH – March 12, 1919
(First appeared in Pacific, Jan. 17, 1982)
The day is Wednesday, March 12, 1919. The silent film “The Forbidden Room” is in the last day of a four-day run at the Colonial Theater on Fourth Avenue between Pike and Pine Streets. The film stars Gladys Brockwell who plays a “girl stenographer saving a big city from looters and plotters.” Brockwell’s performance, however, probably will be missed and the theater empty, for tonight the city itself will be the show as it celebrates the homecoming of “Seattle’s own regiment, the 63rd Coast Artillery.”
The photograph was taken in mid-afternoon and the parade of local heroes through downtown has just ended. Uniformed men and celebrating citizens are mingling in the streets and rehearsing, perhaps, for the night’s street dance in Times Square. At 8 p.m. fireworks will be set off from the roof of the Times Building and the newspaper’s next-day reporting of the celebration will continue these pyrotechnics: “Nothing in the successions of explosions that made the day the 63rd came home a day to be remembered with such historical red letter days as Armistice Day (and night), the Great Fire, the first Klondike gold ship, and the opening of the Exposition was more characteristic of the atmosphere of benevolent and jubilant dynamite than the merry street carnival and pavement dance last night that made Times Square a mass of swaying, noise-making, exuberant humanity . . . ”
Fireworks at the Times Building represented literally the figurative fireworks that found expression in every other event of the dizzy program which piled sensation on sensation until the city’s homecoming soldier sons admitted they scarcely knew whether they were coming or going . . . ”From the roof of the Times Building rockets soared screamingly upward and flared out in fantastic shapes and lights and showers of fire . . . Meanwhile bands – four of them – were making the night melodious with war tunes and the jazziest of jazz music – and throngs were dancing, looking skyward as they danced, and not bothering to apologize for bumps.” It is doubtful that even Gladys Brockwell’s melodramatic heroics could soar so high.
PIKE & FOURTH – JULY 25, 1938
(First appeared in Pacific, 1-8-1989)
Although the date for this Fourth and Pike scene is recorded on neither the original negative nor on its protective envelope, uncovering it was not difficult. The newsstand at the center of this view includes face-out copies of both The Seattle Times and The Post-Intelligencer. Although we can’t read the date, we can, with the aid of magnification, make out a few of the headlines in the original negative. With those generous clues and a little fast-forward searching through the Seattle Public Library’s microfilms, the date for this scene is soon discovered. It is Monday, July 25, 1938.
The P.I., just above the dealer’s head, announces “A New Forest Fire Rages at Sol Duc.” A week-and-a-half of record heat had not only encouraged fires but also filled the beaches. And this Monday, Seattle was even hotter with the anticipation of a Tuesday night fight. Jack Dempsy’s photograph is on the front page of the P.I. The “Mighty Manassa Mauler” was in town to referee one of the great sporting events in the history of the city: the Freddie Steele vs. Al Hostak fight for the middle-weight title.
About 30 hours after this photograph was taken, hometown-tough Hostak, in front of 35,000 sweating fans at Civic Field (now site of the Seattle Center stadium), made quick work of the champion Steele. The P.I.’s purple-penned sports reporter, Royal Brougham, reported “Four times the twenty-two-year-old Seattle boy’s steel-tempered knuckles sent the champion reeling into the rosin.” Hostak brought the belt to Seattle by a knockout in the first minute of the first round.
The day ‘s super-heated condition was also encouraged at the Colonial Theatre (one-half block up Fourth) where the Times reported that “an eternal triangle’ in the heart of the African jungle brings added thrills in “Tarzan’s Revenge.” The apeman’s affection for a Miss Holms, on safari with her father, fires the resentment of her jealous fiancee, George Meeker. However, we will not reveal the ending to this hot affair, although by Wednesday the 27, Seattle had cooled off.
NEON IN 1949 by BRADLEY – Neither GOWEY nor SYKES
This week’s view north on Fourth Avenue from Pike Street shines with neon and those by now nostalgic flame-shape municipal light standards that once graced nearly all the streets in the business district and a few beyond it.
Written on the slide with a steady hand is its most important information – except the photographer’s name. “4th and Pike, Night, Kodak 35mm, Ansco Film, 8 f-stop, Dec 22, 1949.” The shutter was left open for 10 seconds, plenty of time for the passing cars to write illuminated lines along both 4th and Westlake with their headlights. With help from the Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Room I found the photographer: Robert D. Bradley.
I was given this slide and several thousand more in 1984 – a quarter century ago! – by my friend Jean Gowey, who was then recently widowed by her husband Lawton. With thanks Lawton’s name has often appeared here as responsible for providing many of the historical photographs I have used through the now 27 years of this feature. Beyond his professional life of keeping books for the Seattle Water Department, Lawton was very good at playing the organ for his Queen Anne neighborhood church and both studying and sharing his love for local history. Hoping that I would make good public use of Lawton’s own color photography tracking the changes in the business district, Jean included them in the gift.
Along with Gowey’s slides came Bradley’s, and like this night shot, most of them are examples of cityscape beginning in the late 1940s and ending with his death in 1973. The largest part of Jean’s gift, Horace Sykes’s thousands of Kodachrome landscapes of the west from the 1940s and early 1950s, have little to do with Seattle but much to do with the human heart. Until his death in 1956 at the age of 70, Sykes was a relentless explorer and a master of picturesque landscapes. Almost certainly, Sykes, Gowey and Bradley were also friends.
I have often used both Gowey and Bradley’s recordings to better understand the modern changes of Seattle. And now at last at 70 I am also exploring the west with the enchanted Horace. I include now directly below an example of a Horace Sykes Kodachrome landscape. Most of his slide are not identified, but that will make more the adventure of studying them – a Sykes Hide and Seek. (For instance I for now speculate that the below “burning bush” photo is of a scene on the Yakima River.) We intend to eventually give Horace and his art is own picturesque “button” here at dorpatsherrardlomont. (AND WE DID carry on with Sykes, although not yet with the button. We are not yet finished with Sykes. For about a year-and-a-half we ran “Our Daily Sykes” with Horace’s kodachromes of the American West. We reached 498 scenes, I believe. I left one or two off the end so that I might finish it later. It is, it seems, a neurotic inclination of mine. However incomplete one can keyword the 498 Daily Sykes that were shared with blog readers in a testimony to the Horace’s sensitive eye.)
For those who can remember it, Jean Sherrard’s “now” with its starburst lights, repeats the illuminated Christmas star that the Bon Marche Department Store once hung from its nearby corner at 4th and Pine. [Correction! Thank goodness I was wrong – or rather very limited – and thanks to Kimberly M. Reason for her gentle correction. Many readers with Christmastime familiarity with these corners will know that the Bon star still shines, now as a local Macy’s tradition. My ignorance, I confess, is the result of living increasingly in the past and rarely going downtown – especially in December. Reason writes, “I would appreciate it if you would let your readers know that this 51-year-old Seattle holiday tradition is more popular than ever.” This year I hope to be there. And Reason recommends that you can find images of the star and parade on this link: http://www.macys.com/catalog/syndicated/remote/remotesyndication.ognc?Brand=PRESSRELEASE.
Forever Amber: A Film Review by Bill White
Published on October 18, 2009
Film and Music critic Bill White has kindly responded to our request that he write a review of the film showing at the Colonial Theatre in 1949, as revealed in the Kodachrome night slide feature Westlake Night Lights in the Seattle Now and Then published just below this insertion.
An historical romance set during the reign of Charles II, “Forever Amber,” directed by Otto Preminger in 1947, is as dark and claustrophobic a look at society in collapse as any of the underworld-themed B-movies released during the same time. Two years later, Anthony Mann would accomplish something similar with “Reign of Terror,” although his film of the French revolution was a modest black and white production running less than 90 minutes, while “Forever Amber” was shot in Technicolor and ran nearly 2 ½ hours.
It wasn’t until Francis Coppola’s “The Godfather” that the interiors on a major studio film were underlit to such infernal effect. Cinematographer Leon Shamroy, who took the opposite approach the year before in “Leave Her to Heaven,” in which he contrasted the dark story with a brilliantly vibrant visual palette, makes the royal court of Charles II as ghoulishly oppressive as the decaying chambers of Roderick Usher. Although Shamroy won four Oscars for his cinematography, including one for “Leave Her to Heaven,” and was nominated for another eleven, he is largely forgotten today.
The story of Amber begins in 1644, during Cromwell’s rebellion against King Charles I, when the baby girl is discovered and taken in by one of the Puritans who later stands against the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, when Amber resists her foster father’s decision to marry her off to a neighboring farmer. He responds to her refusal by telling her that “vanity is Satan at work in the female soul.” Paradoxically, it is the vanity of the male sex that makes Amber’s tale such a miserable one.
As Bruce Carlton, the callous privateer whose love Amber is obsessed with securing, Cornell Wilde walks atilt with surety of his superiority to every other living thing, including King Charles, who banishes him to the sea when threatened by his sexual rivalry.
George Sanders is suitably disdainful as the king who can stop the performance of a play by his appearance in the royal box, but relies on a revolving cast of compliant female subjects to maintain the illusion of being loved. In the end, when he leaves Amber’s quarters after her final rejection of him as a man, he calls “come, my children,” to a pack of faithful dogs.
It is Linda Darnell’s voluptuously cheap incarnation of Amber that gives the film its poverty row atmosphere. She lowers the bar, just as Jennifer Jones did the previous year for David O. Selznick in “Duel in the Sun,” on any grand aspirations producer Darryl Zanuck might have had for a prestige film. It is because she drags the story into the gutter that gives “Forever Amber” its scent of damnation, and lifts it above the conventional drivel of those romantic melodramas commandeered by the crippling competence of a Bette Davis, Vivian Leigh, or Katherine Hepburn. The screen would not again be endowed with such a fleshy heroine until Elizabeth Taylor embodied Cleopatra in 1963, a film that was also produced at 20th Century Fox by Darryl Zanuck,
“Forever Amber” was one of the few films director Preminger didn’t produce himself, and evidence of Zanuck’s interference is all over it. This is one of the factors that make the film such a fascinating artifact. Although Preminger remained under contract to Fox for another five years, the name of Zanuck never again appeared on one of his films.
AMERICAN HOTEL MISCELLANY
One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The American Hotel on Westlake”
Could you tell me where you found the 10th picture from the bottom of this post captioned: “An early record of both the American Hotel, with its bay windows and the Bank…” I’m unable to find it anywhere else except your blog post. I’m trying to find out who has the rights to it. I’ve scoured MOHAI, but haven’t had any luck. Much appreciated.