Site icon DorpatSherrardLomont

Seattle Now & Then: The Occidental Hotel

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Seen here in 1887 through the intersection of Second Avenue and Yesler Way, the Occidental Hotel was then easily the most distinguished in Seattle. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: While the 1961 destruction of the landmark Seattle Hotel, successor to the Occidental Hotel following the Great Fire of 1889, was protested, it was not stopped. This loss is locally credited with having mobilized Seattle’s enduring forces for historic preservation. The hotel was replaced by the Sinking Ship Parking Garage.

Most of the surviving photographs of the short-lived (five years) Occidental Hotel record it from the front, where its narrow western façade looked back across the busy Pioneer Place, or Square.  This view from the rear looks northwest across the intersection of Second Avenue and Mill Street (Yesler Way) in 1887, while the nearly final touches on the hotel’s new addition are being applied.

The Occidental Hotel from the front. James Street is on the left, and Mill Street (Yesler Way) on the right. In the foreground, Commercial Street (First Ave. South) originates out of Mill Street.  At the rear of the hotel the same scaffolding, as that seen in the feature photo at the top, holds to the facade above Mill Street.  First Hill is on the horizon.

The original 1884 structure is to the left of scaffolding (in the photo at the top), rising here from the sidewalk beside Mill Street.  Portland architect Donald MacKay shaped the building to fit this rare, for Seattle, flatiron-shaped block.  At the top, and wrapping around the 1887 addition, is architect Otto Kleemer’s (also from

The Occidental Hotel snug on its flatiron block..

Portland) well-wrought mansard roof with its many windows.  If I have counted correctly, there are seventeen of them. Frankly, the imposing ornamentation of this Second Empire architecture makes me ache for Paris.  Or one might settle for a Francophile menu with choices written in French, as they were for customers of the hotel’s restaurant.

Thanksgiving Day menu for the Occidental Hotel, 1887. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

The Occidental’s dining room was located in an attached house, accessible from the street or from within the hotel.  It is standing in the shadows behind the sun-lit power pole at the far right (of the featured photo at the top), on the southwest corner of Second Avenue and James Street.  Historian Ron Edge, a frequent aid to this feature, recently found a printed copy of the 1887 Thanksgiving Day Menu for the Occidental.  We’ve attached it here above. Included among its savory choices are Bellie of Salmon a la Hollandaise, Fillet de Boeuf a la Trianon, Petits Pois Francais.  And for dessert the choices included Glace a la Vanilla, Tartelette Framboise and Lady fingers.

A detail from the 1888 Sanborn Real Estate Map for Seattle. (Courtesy, National Archives)

The booming of Seattle in the 1880s made both the building and enlargement of John Collins’ hotel nearly inevitable.  Collins was an energetic Irishman who first arrived here in 1865. With these 1887 additions, the Occidental was rated, at least by locals, as “the largest and best equipped house north of San Francisco.”  The hostelry’s

The Occidental Hotel ruins following the Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy, UW Libraries, Special Collections)

success was interrupted but not stopped, by the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889.  When the ruins of twisted cast iron, charred bricks, ash paneling and black walnut furniture were still smoldering, Collins started clearing the site preparing for a new hotel.  He was then heard to famously enjoin, “Within a year we will have a city here that will surpass by far the town we had before the fire.”

After the fire of 1889 Collins raised this namesake business and hotel block. The economic crash of 1893 had him selling office spaces cheap.  The building would not support a hotel until the beginning of the gold rush in 1897. Collins then changed the name to Seattle Hotel.
The lobby of the Seattle Hotel. Courtesy Michael Maslan
By comparison, Klondyke’s Seattle Hotel in 1898.

Rushed to completion after the fire, the new Occidental filled the entire triangular block. With the prosperity of the gold rush beginning in 1897, Collins changed its name to the Seattle Hotel.  And it was as the Seattle that this hotel was razed in 1961 for the parking garage that we have carpingly learned to refer to as “The Sinking Ship.”  The maritime metaphor is more obvious from the garage’s other (west) end.

Removing the hotel sign at the southwest corner of James Street and Second Avenue, following the earthquake of 1949.
Lawton Gowey’s record of the Seattle Hotel’s destruction. Without dynamite, it took several days. Lawton dated this slide June 8, 1961. Note the Frye Hotel sign on the right.
From Occidental Avenue, a side view of the Sinking Ship Garage by Lawton Gowey on April 21, 1976. The “basket handle” railing on the garage’s top level may be compared to their inspiration, the arched windows in the Pioneer Building beyond the garage.
Returning to the Occidental Hotel, here also photographed from Occidental Avenue, then still named Second Avenue. The date is 1884, the year for the beginning of Seattle’s horse-drawn trolley. (Courtesy, MOHAI)


Anything to add, Paul?  Agreed upon Jean.  First Ron Edge with help from MOHAI Librarian Carolyn Marr, has melded together, directly below, a two-part panorama of Seattle from Elliott Bay in 1887 – or close to it.  Central School at 6th Avenue and Madison Street stands out at the subject’s center on the horizon of what we may call First Hill’s false summit.  The Hill’s highest elevation is several blocks behind the school and far to the right near James Street and Broadway.  We may “remind” readers here that you and I are doing a lecture we have named “First Hill and Beyond” at Town Hall on the Friday evening of Oct. 3.  We included the “beyond” in the title so that we could show some other hills as well.  Perhaps your hill, dear reader. The sum of this summons is cheap – a mere $5.  And everyone gets to also enjoy the unveiling of our “now and then” exhibit in the lobby.   Jean, what will they see in the Town Hall exhibit?

Jean: (polishing his fingernails on the lapel of his smoking jacket) Wonders, Paul, they will see wonders! We two have spent much of the summer assembling and repeating quintessential images of First Hill, chosen with care and consideration. One major panoramic view has never before been seen in its entirety – what’s more, its “now” is a marvel as well. Come join us for an evening of fun and games, dear readers, and, of course, some historical exploration and detective work.

Click to enlarge.  Click it twice.

Now following the grand panorama Ron has also put up a few links, which again feature features that hang about the neighborhood of Pioneer Square – with exceptions and, as we are wont to do, also with some repeats.

Since it is once more “nighty-bears” time, I will return with some more relevant parts in the early afternoon.



Before Collins began building his landmark with the mansard roof in 1884, he bought out his partners in the original Occidental Hotel that held to the same site but not the same shape.   The then still  open space between James and Mill Streets (left and right, below) was often used for public meetings, sports and celebration.   The best documented of these was the 1881 memorial service for President Garfield.

The Garfield memorial with a horizon of First Hill, the forward part of it often called “Yesler Hill.” The Collins family home at the shoutheast corner of James and Second is behind the hotel.
The short essay above first appears in Pacific on Nov. 25,1984, which it may occur to you too is nearly 30 years ago.
By comparison and nearly a block to the west, Lawton Gowey’s look east on Yesler Way into a Pioneer Square about to lose its flat-iron Seattle Hotel. Lawton dated his slide Feb. 7, 1961.


Another and earlier, ca. 1875, glimpse of the first Occidental Hotel, far right, and the row of clapboard industry, including the Wisconsin House, run by Ivar Haglund’s uncle Amund Amund, on the left. More to the highest point of the 1878 Intelligencer clipping that follows is the flag pole near the center of Pioneer Place.

Shall we add the Pioneer Square’s stolen totem pole eventually replaced the flag pole. Here the slim front face of the Seattle Hotel, and its cafe, show to the left of the surely famous and infamous totem.  But the tourists, in the slide below this one, feel  no such ambivalence  as they begin to get up from their bench assuming that it is the totem I wish to photograph and not the two of them sitting  before the totem.  They are not the same pole.  The one below replaced the one above, after the latter was removed with rotting and fire damage in the late 1930s. I remember that they were from Kansas, I believe, and very pleasant – in 1994 or 96.  I can imagine them a quarter-century earlier in their swimming suits and Hawaiian shirts heading in their convertible for a lake near Wichita.


An INTELLIGENCER clipping from May 31, 1978, Courtesy of the Edge Archive.
The object of the INTELLIGENCER’s affections: Seattle’s sharp 1878 Birdseye



North on Occidental ca. 1872. In truth the avenue was then still named Second. Note the big puddle to the left. When the first settlers first arrived on this side of Ellliott Bay in 1852, this covered by the tides more often than not.
Lawton Gowey’s friend, the photographer and gem polisher Robert Bradley, hand-colored a variety of pioneer Seattle subjects, this one included. This required painting directly on the 35mm slide.
Looking north on Occidental thru Main Street, circa 1913. (Courtesy, Municipal Archive)
The Seattle-Tacoma Interurban’s plush parlor car waiting on Occidental Ave. with the Seattle Hotel behind it and the Interurban Building on the right. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
Another and earlier look north on Occidental and past Interurban cars to the Seattle Hotel.
Another Gowey Kodachrome, and like another Gowey contribution placed nine images up, this one was recorded on February 7, 1961. The Seattle Hotel’s cornice was a victim of the city’s 1949 earthquake. Note what I remember as the nifty Studebaker, parked on the right below the Jesus Saves sign.  It was choices like that, which troubled me so as a teenager.
Gowey returns to the scene again in February, the 20th, but six years later during the “winter of love” and so also six years after the Seattle Hotel was razed for the parking garage. Seattle’s first skyscraper, the Alaska Building at Second and James, rises beyond.  On the right is a still unscrubbed Occidental Building, and therein both the Oasis Tavern and Jesus Saves hold their places.  Parking in the lot on the right is a 30 cents for 2 hours.  Whatever the cost today, it is much higher, rising with both inflation and the increasingly desperate condition of drivers in downtown traffic.
This time Lawton returns on November 11, 1972 for the nearly new planter strip centered on Occidental Avenue. Jesus and the bar endure, joined now by another kind of savior, Loggers Loans.


NORTH on FRONT from the top of the OCCIDENTAL, ca. 1884

Another look down from the roof or upper floor of the Occidental Hotel, this was southwest toward “Ballast Island,” the dumped dirt from ships visiting the King St. Coal Wharf – seen her on the distant left beyond the City Dock – in the late 1870s and early 1880s,   The City and Ocean Docks were built over and, in places, upon the “island” of imported land. On the left, the Langston stable is on Washington Street between Commercial Street (First Ave.S). and the docks.



Looking south on First Avenue (still Front Street in 1889) towards James Street and the Occidental ruins.
This feature first appeared in Pacific on June 6, 2004.
Like above, looking south on First Avenue towards both James Street and Yesler Way, with the bow of the Sinking Ship Garage taking the front face prospect of the Occidental Hotel ruins.