Seattle Now & Then: The Waldorf Apartments

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Encouraged by the rapid growth of Seattle’s business and retail districts to the north, the Waldorf, then the biggest apartment house in town, was raised on the northeast corner of Pike Street and 7th Avenue in 1906-7. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Beginning in the Great Depression of the 1930s, the “upper Pike” neighborhood of hotels and apartment buildings grew increasingly blue and seedy. The Waldorf endured until 9:05 a.m. on May 30, 1999 when it was imploded.
NOW: Beginning in the Great Depression of the 1930s, the “upper Pike” neighborhood of hotels and apartment buildings grew increasingly blue and seedy. The Waldorf endured until 9:05 a.m. on May 30, 1999 when it was imploded.


The impressive speed with which the Waldorf Apartments were topped-off at seven stories was explained in the Times for August 19, 1906. “The building has been put up in record time…for the past few weeks work has been carried on day and night. The carpenters who have prepared the framework for the concrete have worked in the daytime and the concrete men have done their part at night by electric light. When completed the Waldorf will be the largest apartment house in the city and the equal in all respects of any similar building in the country. It will be ready for occupancy about Nov. 1” Not quite.



The Waldorf Building Co. started soliciting reservations for its units late in October.  (see above)  The units had much to offer, including “first class janitor service,” night-and-day elevator service, and a laundry for tenants in the basement. The promotions warned that “satisfactory references (were) required.” Through the fall of 1906 the company almost routinely announced delays, until a few days before Christmas when it reported that the Waldorf was at last “ready for occupancy.” The formal opening, however, waited until the following March 27.

A clip from The Seattle Times for Nov. 25, 1906.
A clip from The Seattle Times for Nov. 25, 1906.

Diana James, author of Shared Walls, a history of early Seattle apartment buildings, pulled from her research a novelty connected with the Waldorf construction. “Each of the apartments is to be equipped with a peculiar device, an idea of Mr. Ryan (the Waldorf’s architect), for house cleaning, so arranged that any occupant of any apartment, by the simple attachment of a short rubber hose, can clean the apartment with compressed air in a few minutes’ time, driving all dust to the basement and eliminating the necessity of sweeping. This is a feature that so far as known has never been installed in any other similar building ever constructed.”

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The Waldorf's presentation in the booming publication "Prosperous Washington."
The Waldorf’s presentation in the booming publication “Prosperous Washington.”

Perhaps because of its bay windows, I’d always imagined that the Waldorf was an oversized frame construction. I did not look closely. Rather it was not wood but concrete, and the attentive press was pleased to report, “absolutely fireproof.” The International Fireproof Construction Company was the builder. U. Grant Fay, superintendent of the construction, was, like the hotel’s status-conscious name, yet another gift from New York City. The Times announced his spring of 1906 arrival while piling on more prestige with news that Fay had been “superintendent of construction of the Hotel St. Regis of New York City, said to be the finest hotel in the world.”

The namesake, sort of, or swank symbol made flesh with an expatriate who
The namesake, sort of, or swank symbol made flesh with an expatriate who is branded above as a “tuft hunter,” which – if you look it up – is one “that  seeks association with persons of title or high social status: snob.”  In exchange William Waldorf Astor had his millions and his hotel.  In 1890 with the death of his father, William Waldorf Astor became “the richest man in America.”  Also that year he began construction on his namesake hotel, after which  his cousin, John Jacob “Jack” Astor IV, built the adjoining Astoria Hotel in 1897.  Together they made the euphonious sounding Waldorf-Astoria, and misleading.   The cousins were rivals and not  in harmony.   Jack’s mother Lena acted as the guardian angel  of New York Society, and was in part responsible for William Waldorf’s flight to the old world with his new wealth, wife and five children. 

In the early stages of construction, the Waldorf was wrapped in class by the local media. As an example, on February 25, 1906, the Times included an architect’s sketch of the Waldorf among five illustrations for a full-page feature titled “Seattle, The Beautiful Metropolis.”

From the Seattle Times for Feb. 25, 1906.
From the Seattle Times for Feb. 25, 1906. – CLICK CLICK to enlarge.
The Waldorf remodeled its lobby in the midst of the Great Depression. This splotchy pulp print was featured in The Times for Nov. 24, 1935.
The Waldorf remodeled its lobby in the midst of the Great Depression. This splotchy pulp print was featured in The Times for Nov. 24, 1935.
The Waldorf, lower-right, with its
The Waldorf, lower-right, with some of its neighbors in, it seems, the 193Os.  The frame home, bottom-center and just left of the Waldorf, is featured in one of the now-then’s below – the second one from the top.. 


Anything to add, kids?  Thru the years Jean we have touched these surrounds and with Ron Edge’s help we will follow our custom and feature a few of them.   As is also, by now, our habit, there will be repeats.   You may treat these as pavlovian opportunities or as annoying stumps in the road and jump beyond any of these web extras while coughing and/or grumbling.

THEN: Built in the mid-1880s at 1522 7th Avenue, the Anthony family home was part of a building boom developing this north end neighborhood then into a community of clapboards. Here 70 years later it is the lone survivor. (Photo by Robert O. Shaw)

THEN: A circa 1923 view looks south on Eighth Avenue over Pike Street, at bottom left.

THEN: The row house at the southwest corner of 6th Avenue and Pine Street in its last months, ca. 1922-23. (Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: The city’s north end skyline in 1923 looking northwest from the roof of the then new Cambridge Apartments at 9th Avenue and Union Street. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)


THEN: Built in 1909-10 on one of First Hill’s steepest slopes, the dark brick Normandie Apartments' three wings, when seen from the sky, resemble a bird in flight. (Lawton Gowey)

THEN: We are not told but perhaps it is Dora and Otto Ranke and their four children posing with their home at 5th and Pike for the pioneer photographer Theo. E. Peiser ca. 1884. In the haze behind them looms Denny Hill. (Courtesy Ron Edge)

THEN: In the 32 years between Frank Shaw's dedication picture and Jean Sherrard's dance scene, Freeway Park has gained in verdure what it has lost in human use.

THEN: As explained in the accompanying story the cut corner in this search-lighted photo of the “first-nighters” lined up for the March 1, 1928 opening of the Seattle Theatre at 9th and Pine was intended. Courtesy Ron Phillips

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

THEN:The early evening dazzle of the Roosevelt Theatre at 515 Pike Street, probably in 1941. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: The Ballard Public Library in 1903-4, and here the Swedish Baptist Church at 9th and Pine, 1904-5, were architect Henderson Ryan’s first large contracts after the 20 year old southerner first reached Seattle in 1898. Later he would also design both the Liberty and Neptune Theatres, the latter still projecting films in the University District. (Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: The brand new N&K Packard dealership at Belmont and Pike in 1909. Thanks to both antique car expert Fred Cruger for identifying as Packards the cars on show here, and to collector Ron Edge for finding them listed at this corner in a 1909 Post-Intelligencer. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry.)

Great railroad signs, theatre signs and ranks of neon were still the greatest contributors to night light at 4th and Westlake in 1949. (Photo by Robert Bradley compliment of Lawton and Jean Gowey)


THEN: Thanks to Pacific reader John Thomas for sharing this photograph recorded by his father in 1927. It looks north across Times Square to the almost completed Orpheum Theatre. Fifth Avenue is on the left, and Westlake on the right.

THEN: While visiting Seattle for some promoting, silent film star Wallace Reid shares the sidewalk at 4th and Olive with a borrowed Stutz Bearcat. (Courtesy, Museum of History & Industry)

THEN: This rare early record of the Fourth and Pike intersection was first found by Robert McDonald, both a state senator and history buff with a special interest in historical photography. He then donated this photograph - with the rest of his collection - to the Museum of History and Industry, whom we thank for its use. (Courtesy MOHAI)

THEN: A motorcycle courier for Bartell Drugs poses before the chain’s Store No. 14, located in the Seaboard Building at the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Pike Street, circa 1929. (Courtesy Bartell Drugs)

THEN: Looking west on Pike Street from Fourth Avenue, the variety in the first block of this retail district includes the Rhodes Bros. Ten Cent Store, Mendenhall’s Kodaks, Fountain Pens and Photo Supplies, Remick’s Song and Gift Shop, the Lotus Confectionary, Fahey-Brockman’s Clothiers, where, one may “buy upstairs and save $10.00”. (Courtesy, MOHAI)

THEN: Swedish Lutheran (Gethsemane) Church’s second sanctuary at the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and Steward Street circa 1920, photo by Klaes Lindquist. (Courtesy, Swedish Club)












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The Waldorf polished near its end.
The Waldorf polished near its end.





One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: The Waldorf Apartments”

  1. I read your article with interest regarding early Seattle hotels.
    I found a glass shard this past year on the beach where we live on Maury Island within Quartermaster Harbor from Seattle,s old Hotel Savoy. After searching for information I found some of its history which you probably know.. My mother,s parents August and Anna Anderson, purchased a small hotel after returning from the Alaskan Gold Rush in early 1900,s, where my mother was born. I believe the hotel was on second avenue…Victoria? Perhaps..? I will enclosed the photograph of the shard. I have no information regarding their hotel. I think the shard could make an interesting story for you to write how it might have ended up on my beach….the Mosquito Fleet?
    I would need an email address so I can send the photo to you.

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