Seattle Now & Then: The Sinking Ship

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN:  In Lawton Gowey’s 1961 pairing, the Smith Tower (1914) was the tallest building in Seattle, and the Pioneer Square landmark Seattle Hotel (1890) had lost most of its top floor.  (by Lawton Gowey)
THEN: In Lawton Gowey’s 1961 pairing, the Smith Tower (1914) was the tallest building in Seattle, and the Pioneer Square landmark Seattle Hotel (1890) had lost most of its top floor. (by Lawton Gowey)
NOW:  The mockingly named “Sinking Ship Garage” replaced the ornate brick Seattle Hotel with a concrete garage capped by a railing of bent pipes that resemble a row of basket handles.
NOW: The mockingly named “Sinking Ship Garage” replaced the ornate brick Seattle Hotel with a concrete garage capped by a railing of bent pipes that resemble a row of basket handles.

Lawton Gowey was a regular visitor to the demolition scene of the Seattle Hotel. His collection of Kodachrome slides records nearly the entire process of the destruction of the 1890 landmark. Gowey dated this slide June 8, 1961. The demolition work began with the interior on the third of April, and here, two months later, most of the top floor is gone.

Rubble dropped from the roof of the Seattle Hotel during the 1949 earthquake.  (Courtesy, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Rubble dropped from the roof of the Seattle Hotel during the 1949 earthquake. (Courtesy, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

The removal of the ornate cornice at the top of the five and one-half story landmark got an early start with the city’s 1949 earthquake. For safety, and probably for economy too, much of it was removed following the quake. Still, the hotel stayed opened until the spring of 1960, when its closure was announced. It was widely assumed that it would soon be razed – not renovated. The same was expected for its then still on the skids Pioneer Square, the city’s most historic neighborhood.

When new in 1890  the future Occidental and finally Seattle Hotel was named the Collins Building for its owner.    Here James Street is to the left and Mill Street (Yesler Way) to the right.
When new in 1890 the future Occidental and finally Seattle Hotel was named the Collins Building for its owner. Here, and in the four photos below,  James Street is to the left and Mill Street (Yesler Way) to the right.

Seattle-Hotel-early-in-its-demolution-too-WEB

Yesler-Way-from-First-AVe-w-S-Hotel-stereoWEB

Lawton Gowey's record of the garage and a few of its neighbors on March 20, 1974.
Lawton Gowey’s record of the garage and a few of its neighbors on March 20, 1974.

Citizen response, however, was surprising. In an attempt to save the hotel, a local cadre of preservationists quickly formed. Although that battle was lost, the enthusiasts for local heritage won the war by saving the neighborhood. The city’s new Department of Community Development, the DCD, formed the Pioneer Square Historic District in 1970.

The Logan Building at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Union Street.
The Logan Building at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Union Street.  Seattle’s first Glass Curtain modern.
A model for a National Bank of Commerce designed by Mandeville and Berge, architects for the "Sinking Ship Garage."
A model for a National Bank of Commerce designed by Mandeville and Berge, architects for the “Sinking Ship Garage.”  Pulled from the Seattle Times for Feb. 26, 1967.

By this time the four-floor parking lot that was built on the hotel’s flatiron footprint was commonly called the “Sinking Ship Garage.” It is still one of our best local jokes. The garage’s architect-engineers, Gilbert Mandeville and Gudmund Berge, were fresh off their 1959 success as local consultants for the Logan Building at Fifth Avenue and Union Street, the city’s first glass curtain box. Here, in Pioneer Square, they added what they and its owners considered a compliment to the historic neighborhood: a basket-handle shaped railing made of pipe, a kind of undulating cornice, that ran along the top of the concrete garage.

The garage's basket handles aligned with those on the Interurban Building at the southeast corner of Yesler Way and Occidental Avenue.
The garage’s basket handles aligned with those on the Interurban Building at the southeast corner of Yesler Way and Occidental Avenue.
Two more sympathies for the bent pipes on top of the Sinking Ship: the windows in the Mutual Life Building, left-center, and the Pioneer Building, upper -right.  Courtesy Lawton Gowey, April 21, 1976
Two more sympathies for the bent pipes on top of the Sinking Ship: the windows in the Mutual Life Building, left-center, and the Pioneer Building, upper -right. Courtesy Lawton Gowey, April 21, 1976

Lawton Gowey loved the Smith Tower. His juxtaposition of the well-wrought tower, the injured hotel, and the wrecker’s crane is at once elegant and ambivalent.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, lads?  Golly Jean, yes.  Ron Edge has put up two links to past features.  Both are rich with references to this triangle.  Following that are few more relevant clips cut from past Pacifics.

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)

THEN: Local candy-maker A.W. Piper was celebrated here for his crème cakes and wedding cakes and also his cartoons.  This sketch is of the 1882 lynching from the Maple trees beside Henry and Sara Yesler’s home on James Street.  Piper’s bakery was nearby (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

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Pergola-1-hub-left

Appeared first in Pacific for Sept. 26, 1982
Appeared first in Pacific for Sept. 26, 1982  [Click TWICE to ENLARGE]
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Occidental-Hotel-left-WEB

Appeared in Pacific first on November 20, 1983.
Appeared in Pacific first on November 20, 1983.  [Click TWICE  to enlarge]
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First appeared in Pacific on July 13, 1986.
First appeared in Pacific on July 13, 1986.

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Appeared first as a Historylink demonstration in Pacific on July 19, 1998.  I will add that the founding of Historylink still feels novel to me, and the notion or evidence again that we first did all that in the late 1990s has an uncanny edge for me.  And nostalgic.
Appeared first as a Historylink demonstration in Pacific on July 19, 1998. I will add that the founding of Historylink still feels novel, and the notion or evidence again that we first started all that in the late 1990s has an uncanny edge for me. And nostalgic.  [Click twice to enlarge]
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First appeared in Pacific, Oct. 31, 1999
First appeared in Pacific, Oct. 31, 1999

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First appeared in Pacific, June 6, 2004
First appeared in Pacific, June 6, 2004

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Circa 1984, looking west from near Second Ave. along the south facade of the Pioneer Square Garage, AKA the "Sinking Ship."  That's all folks!
Circa 1984, looking west from near Second Ave. along the south facade of the Pioneer Square Garage, AKA the “Sinking Ship.” That’s all folks!

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