(click to enlarge photos)
The first two listing in The Seattle Times for the Sorrento Hotel were published on February 7, 1909, soon after its opening. One was for a bridge party arranged at the hotel by a Miss Louise Langford “in honor of Miss Ethel Amana” visiting from Oakland, California. The second citation noted that Mrs. H.N. Richmond and her daughter Helen have “returned from California and are at the Hotel Sorrento for the winter.” Since none of the Sorrento’s seventy-six suitts had kitchens, most likely the Richmonds were often taking their meals in the hotel’s Dunbar Room, a name that the hotel has revived with its recent changes.
On April 5, 1908, the hotel printed its first illustration in The Times, an architectural drawing most likely by Harlan Thomas, the Sorrento’s architect. The caption describes the elegant Italianate landmark as a “new tourist and family hotel now in the course of erection on the northwest corner of Madison and Terry by the Samuel Rosenberg Investment Company.” In her chapter, “Apartment Living on First Hill,” included in Historic Seattle’s 40th Anniversary book history, Tradition and Change on Seattle First Hill, Jacqueline B. Williams quotes a 1940 newsletter : “The building of The Sorrento epitomized a change in the life of the city from the pioneer era, the time when men and women lived close to the soil was over and the building of a luxurious residential hotel was one of the first steps toward ‘the New York of the West.’”
In architect Norman J. Johnson’s essay on Harlan Thomas, included in the University Press’ often-helpful Shaping Seattle Architecture, Johnson notes that the Sorrento “offered Seattle its first rooftop restaurant and brought a new sophistication in residential accommodations for locals and visitors alike.” Like his hotel, Thomas also became a local treasure, and was head of the U.W. Architecture Department between 1924 and 1940. The Sorrento has been through a few remodels during its now 108 years, but with little injury to its landmark charms. For its 1933 remodel, The Times then noted, “From top to bottom the hotel has been completely gone over, the only part of it remaining the same being the distinguished exterior, which has attracted favorable comments from tourists for a number of years.”
Of the several reviews I have read of the Sorrento’s recent changes, I recommend one from The Seattle Times food writer, Bethany Jean Clement. It was published here on April 22nd, last. You can easily find Clement’s generous and insightful wit with your Seattle Public Library card. Ask a librarian for help; they like to give it. While visiting the archive you may also be pleased to find that in the April 13, 1909, issue, The Times reported “Mr. and Mrs. Richmond have removed from the Sorrento Hotel to their summer home at Laurelhurst.” We are not told what became of Helen. This citation and about 3400 others that name the Sorrento – most of them brief asides – are there for exploring.
Anything to add, guys? Naturally, but first a note to our readers. At this moment Jean and Karen and Don may flying over Greenland (the southern tip) on their return from weeks in Europe, or they may already have returned to their beds beside Puget Sound in retreat from jet lag. We have not heard. With what follows first Ron Edge will put up a fairly long list of the more recent relevant – to the neighborhood or subject – that he can pull from the blog itself. Following that, as is by now our custom, I’ll add some past relevant features that we published sometimes in the many earlier years of the feature as it appeared (since 1982) in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
BLOOD BANK SOUTHWEST CORNER, TERRY & MADISON
LINCOLN HOTEL, ROOFTOP GARDEN
We will return to proof the above – after a late Sunday breakfast.
3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Sorrento Hotel”
My grandfather and his sister lived in The Commander Hotel in Cambridge Mass, in the 1940’s. Your blog post makes me want to investigate more and compare the 2 hotels.
Paul, Thanks for another glimpse into recent nostalgia (oxymoron?). Early in my employment at Boeing Seattle, the U.S. Air Force had a business arrangement with the Sorrentto that required(?) all Air Force personnel on business trips to Seattle (or to Boeing?) to stay at the Sorrentto at contracted room rates. I was heavily involved as an engineer in testing the Boeing KC-135 airplanes and derivatives from roughly 1959 through 1965. This required many Sorrento meetings with Air Forces pilots and engineers – mostly from Edwards AFB in the Mojave desert, CA. – ranging from technical business to social schmoozing to a few that could be characterized as clandestine.
The Carey Band… That was my grandfather. Edward J. Carey, and my dad, Edward A. Carey. Al Carey