Seattle Now & Then: The Sorrento Hotel

(click to enlarge photos)

sorrento-late-construction-WEB

THEN: Through its now long life as a local landmark, the Sorrento Hotel, at the northwest corner of Madison Street and Terry Avenue, has been variously referred to as Seattle’s “Honeymoon Hotel,” its “Most Romantic Hotel,” a “remnant of Seattle’s original cocktail culture,” and now, more often, “Seattle’s original boutique hotel.”  (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry.)
THEN: Through its now long life as a local landmark, the Sorrento Hotel, at the northwest corner of Madison Street and Terry Avenue, has been variously referred to as Seattle’s “Honeymoon Hotel,” its “Most Romantic Hotel,” a “remnant of Seattle’s original cocktail culture,” and now, more often, “Seattle’s original boutique hotel.” (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry.)
NOW: Among the Sorrento’s recent changes, a new courtyard area “for al fresco drinking and dining” has replaced the circular driveway at the entrance.
NOW: Among the Sorrento’s recent changes, a new courtyard area “for al fresco drinking and dining” has replaced the circular driveway at the entrance.

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.  

A clipping from The Seattle Times for (or on) April 5, 1908.
A clipping from The Seattle Times for (or on) April 5, 1908.  CLICK TO ENLARGE

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.’”  

Like the featured photographs at the top, this too was taken by Asahel Curtis - perhaps on the same day, as one of the two on top.  As its own caption, lower-right, indicates this was taken from the hotel.  It looks northwest into the city's new and booming retail district.
Like the featured photographs at the top, this too was taken by Asahel Curtis – perhaps on the same day, as one of the two on top.  As its own caption, lower-right, indicates this was taken from the hotel. It looks northwest into the city’s new and booming retail district.  The big home on the far right looks down on 8th Avenue and across it to the future corner for first the Christian Scientists and then for Town Hall at Seneca.   CLICK TWICE
A detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map showing the Sorrento at the northwest corner of Madison and Terry (in Block 76).  Kitty-Korner is the Ranke Mansion and behind it the Perry Hotel at the southwest corner of Boren and Madison.
A detail from the 1912 Baist Real Estate Map showing the Sorrento at the northwest corner of Madison and Terry (in Block 76). Kitty-corner is the Ranke Mansion and behind it the Perry Hotel at the southwest corner of Boren and Madison.
First appeared in Pacific.
First appeared in Pacific.
The Ranke Home with the Perry Hotel converted to the Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini Hospital behind it.
Kitty-corner from the Sorrento Hotel, the Ranke Home with the Perry Hotel converted to the Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini Hospital behind it.
The modern west wing of the Cabrini Hospital seen from the Sorrento's circus-drive near its front door, which is now a outdoor dining patio when the weather allows.
The modern west wing of the Cabrini Hospital seen from the Sorrento’s circus-drive near its front door, which is now a outdoor dining patio when the weather allows.

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.”

The top half of The Seattle Times Oct. 17, 1933 coverage of the Sorrento's remodel and its re-opening.,
The top half of The Seattle Times Oct. 17, 1933 coverage of the Sorrento’s remodel and its re-opening., CLICK TWICE to READ.
From the same October issue, the hotel's own announcement of its re-opening.  "Special Opening Dinners With Orchestra" are advertised within the ad.  Directly below is a front door photo fo the popular Carey Band, which  was not necessarily the band playing there in the fall of 1933.
From the same October issue, the hotel’s own announcement of its re-opening. “Special Opening Dinners With Orchestra” are advertised within the ad. Directly below is a front door photo of the popular Carey Band, which may have also played the Sorrento in the fall of 1933.
The Carey band - members all of the local musicians union - at the Sorrento front door.
The Carey band – members all of the local musicians union – at the Sorrento front door.

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. 

WEB EXTRAS

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.

BOREN-&-University-Denny-&-Ainsworth-Homes-THEN-mr

THEN: The Perry Apartments is nearly new in “postcard artist” M. L. Oakes look at them south on Boren to where it intersects with Madison Street. (Courtesy John Cooper)

THEN: Looking north-northeast from a low knoll at the southwest corner of Seneca Street and Seventh Avenue, circa 1916.  By 1925, a commercial automobile garage filled the vacant lot in the foreground.  [Courtesy, Ron Edge]

THEN: Looking west on Madison Street from Seventh Avenue circa 1909.  (Courtesy, Washington State Museum, Tacoma)

THEN: On his visit to the Smith Tower around 1960, Wade Stevenson recorded the western slope of First Hill showing Harborview Hospital and part of Yesler Terrace at the top between 7th and 9th Avenue but still little development in the two blocks between 7th and 5th Avenues.  Soon the Seattle Freeway would create a concrete ditch between 7th and 6th (the curving Avenue that runs left-to-right through the middle of the subject.)  Much of the wild and spring fed landscape between 6th and 5th near the bottom of the revealing subject was cleared for parking.  (Photo by Wade Stevenson, courtesy of Noel Holley)

THEN: Looking east on University Street towards Ninth Avenue, ca. 1925, with the Normandie Apartments on the left.

https://sherrlock.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/1-future-courthouse-site-1937-web1.jpg?w=830&h=536

THEN: First Hill’s distinguished Old Colony Apartments at 615 Boren Avenue, 1910.

THEN: Looking west on Madison Street from Seventh Avenue circa 1909.  (Courtesy, Washington State Museum, Tacoma)

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BLOOD BANK SOUTHWEST CORNER, TERRY & MADISON

First appeared in Pacific, Sept., 2, 2001.
First appeared in Pacific, Sept., 2, 2001.

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COXEY’S ARMY

COXEY'S ARMY encamped on what is now the St. James corner.  First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 28, 1988.
COXEY’S ARMY encamped on what is now the St. James corner. First appeared in Pacific, Feb. 28, 1988.

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LINCOLN HOTEL, ROOFTOP GARDEN

A decade earlier than the Sorrento, and at Fourth Avenue six blocks west of it, the Lincoln Hotel also had a roofgarden.   Frist appeared in Pacific, June 30, 1985.
A decade earlier than the Sorrento, and at Fourth Avenue six blocks west of it, the Lincoln Hotel also had a roofgarden. Frist appeared in Pacific, June 30, 1985.

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We will return to proof the above – after a late Sunday breakfast.

 

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Sorrento Hotel”

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

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