Seattle Now & Then: The Butler did it!

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Adding a sixth floor to its first five in 1903, the Hotel Butler entered a thirty-year run as “the place” for dancing in the Rose Room, dining at the Butler Grill, and celebrity-mixing in the lobby. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
THEN: Adding a sixth floor to its first five in 1903, the Hotel Butler entered a thirty-year run as “the place” for dancing in the Rose Room, dining at the Butler Grill, and celebrity-mixing in the lobby. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Never lost, the Butler Hotel’s first floor of brick and stone from 1890 survives under eight floors of parking.
NOW: Never lost, the Butler Hotel’s first floor of brick and stone from 1890 survives under eight floors of parking.

There are few artifacts from Seattle history so well fitted with worthy stories as the Hotel Butler.  This five-or six-story brick and stone block was built on the northwest corner of James Street and Second Avenue almost immediately following the Great Fire of 1889.  The first of its worthy stories describes rotund developer Guy Phinney (of the Ridge) meeting with the slender young English architect John Parkinson in the cooling ashes at the James and

Early adver for the Butler. The art was completed before the building, which was finished without a tower.
Early adver for the Butler. The art was completed before the building, which was finished without a tower.

Second corner property, which Phinney had purchased earlier from pioneers Hiram and Catherine Butler.  Phinney challenged Parkinson with a big order: a business block plan to be delivered in twenty-four hours.  The architect managed to answer the call with a rendering for a structure that survives, at least in its first floor, 125 years later.

Guy Phinney's real estate tent stands on a scaffold near the northwest corner of Second Ave. and James Street, and the future front door to the Butler Hotel. The view of early construction following the Great Fire of June 6, 1889 looks east from Pioneer Square, near the center of the block between James and Cherry Streets.
Guy Phinney’s real estate tent stands far right on a scaffold near the northwest corner of Second Ave. and James Street, about where the future front door to the Butler Hotel will face Second Avenue.. The view of early construction following the Great Fire of June 6, 1889 looks east from Pioneer Square, near the center of the block between James and Cherry Streets.  The featured text that accompanied the above photo for its 2002 Pacific printing follows.  
First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 29, 2002
First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 29, 2002

The widespread economic panic of 1893 transformed Phinney’s business block into a hotel with new owners, Dietrich Hamm and Ferdinand Schmitz.  Through the tough times of the depression that followed, the new partners still hired “the highest priced chef in town,” and sometimes made special arrangements with paying guests of many sorts, such as the grandiose “Christ-like power” of Herrman the Healer. The Times on June 15, 1896, played along, surely for a fee, with Herrman’s promotions.  “Nearly all chronic diseases quickly yield to animal magnetism in the hands of this wonderful magnetist.”  The Butler’s “private parlors” 19 thru 26 were set aside for Herrman’s laying on of hands, but with the warning that “Those unable to pay must not come to the hotel, but to the theatre, where free tickets, free seats and free treatment on the stage will be given. Consultation, with full diagnosis of your disease, in all cases, is $1.00.”

Anders Wilse's early citty-korner record of the Butler Hotel on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and James Street.
Anders Wilse’s early kitty-corner record of the Butler Hotel on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and James Street.
The engineer-photorgrapher and Norwegian immigrant Anders Wilse recorded this look north on Second Avenue from Yesler Way in the mid 1890s. The Butler Hotel appears in the left, left-of-center. It is still at its original height. The Seattle Hotel is submerged in the shadows on the left.
The photographer and Norwegian immigrant Anders Wilse recorded this look north on Second Avenue from Yesler Way in the mid 1890s. The Butler Hotel appears  in the light left-of-center. It is still at its original height. The Seattle Hotel is submerged in the shadows on the left.
Two Seattle Times clips - above and below - from May 3, 1903.
Two Seattle Times clips – above and below – from May 3, 1903.

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Above and Below: Ross Cunnngham’s feature on the Butler published in The Times for July 15, 1977  (click to enlarge)

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The Yukon gold rush of 1897 and after gave the Butler and every other hotel in Seattle its own rush.  It was with this affluence that the Hotel Butler became “the place.” A short list of its famous guests included Buffalo Bill, Presidents Cleveland, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt (not together), Gen. John Pershing, Lillian Russell, and the Great Northern Railroad’s James Hill. In an effort to lead good-time-yearning guests through the Jazz Age, the bands playing in the hotel’s popular Rose Room included Jackie Sounders, the smooth clarinetist Nicholas Oeconomacos, and during five of the prohibition years, Vic Meyers and his Brunswick Recording Orchestra, which parodied failed police raids with playings of “How Dry I Am.”

[The next clip – with 2 parts – is Don Duncan’s take on the Butler’s mostly happy life.  Don wrote for the Times for decades.  CLICK TO ENLARGE]

[DUNCAN'S feature on the Butler appeared in The Times on March 14, 1971. It continues and concludes below.)
[DUNCAN’S feature on the Butler appeared in The Times on March 14, 1971. It continues and concludes below.)
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QUIZ: Part of the Second Avenue facade can be found in this ca. 1910 look from the front lawn of the King Country Courthouse on First Hill's Seventh Avenue. Hint: The skyscraper is Seattle's first - the Alaska Building (1904) at the southeast corner of James and Second Avenue. The steeple on the right tops Our Mother of Good Help Catholic Church at the southeast corner of Jefferson and Fifth Avenue.
QUIZ: Part of the BUTLER’S  Second Avenue facade can be found in this ca. 1910 look from the front lawn of the King Country Courthouse on First Hill’s Seventh Avenue. Hints: The skyscraper is Seattle’s first – the Alaska Building (1904) at the southeast corner of James and Second Avenue. The steeple on the right tops Our Mother of Good Help Catholic Church at the southeast corner of Jefferson and Fifth Avenue.  CLICK TO ENLARGE

During the depths of the Great Depression, the Hotel Butler closed in 1933, the year prohibition was reversed. The following year the Phinney-Parkinson creation was reduced to two stories for parking above and shops at the sidewalk.  Now with added stories it has parking for 427 vehicles so long (or short) as they are not over 6 feet 8 inches tall. 

The Butler in February 1993.
The Butler in February 1993.

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The Times report on the Butler's bust with the vision of its past in a cartoon above the feature. Appeared Sept. 10, 1933.
The Times report on the Butler’s bust with a cartoon vision of its illustrious past.   Appeared Sept. 10, 1933.
Frank Shaw's capture of the Smith Tower reflected in a pool on the moss-covered roof of the Butler Hotel.
Frank Shaw’s capture of the Smith Tower reflected in a pool on the moss-covered roof of the Butler Hotel.

The Seattle Times has done well in cherishing the hotel’s stories, both when they were being ‘written,’ and also later as told by the hotel’s staff and guests.  Four of The Times still appreciated columnists, John Reddin (Face of the City), Emmett Watson (This Our City), Byron Fish (By Fish, His Mark), and Don Duncan (Driftwood Diary), have dedicated a feature or more to the Hotel Butler. Most recently, in 1971, Duncan described it as “the most famous hostelry and nightspot in our city’s history . . . Under its roof were quartered prima donnas and Presidents, gold-rush promoters and railroad magnates, cigar-puffing politicians and the glittering stars of touring vaudeville shows.”  For much of its life it was “the place” – Seattle’s ‘Grand Hotel.’  

Mayor Brown welcoming theatrical ensemble on tour here to city hall.
Mayor Brown welcoming theatrical ensemble on tour here to city hall.

BELOW: A November 20, 1924 printing of a letter to The Times from Seattle’s then somewhat Thrumplike mayor, the showboat Dentist Edwin J. Brown, complaining about the behavior of the Seattle police during a raid made on the BUTLER HOTEL on August 10, 1924.  [click to enlarge]

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WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, compadres?   Ron Edge has put down a few links from the neighborhood, and as time permits I’ll pull a few more from old files.  I remember buying some Butler Hotel ephemera long long ago.  I’ll scan of it what I can find.  I’m hoping that the hotel postcard will surface.  It includes a message from a customer that is the opposite of what is expected – deriding rather than swooning over its celebrated cuisine.

THEN: Between the now lost tower of the Pioneer Building, seen in part far left, and the Seattle Electric Steam Plant tower on the right, are arranged on First and Railroad Avenues the elaborate buzz of business beside and near Seattle’s Pioneer Square ca. 1904.

THEN: The Terry-Denny Building, better known in its earlier years as Hotel Northern, was part of the grand new Pioneer Place (or Square) neighborhood built up in the early 1890s after the old one was reduced to ashes by Seattle's Great Fire of 1889.

THEN: With the clue of the ornate Pergola on the right, we may readily figure that we are in Pioneer Square looking south across Yesler Way.

THEN: For the first twenty years of his more than 40 years selling tinware and other selected hardware, Zilba Mile's shop looked south across Yesler Way down First Ave. S, then known as Commercial Street.

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: The Lebanon aka Jesse George building at Occidental and Main opened with the Occidental Hotel in 1891. Subsequently the hotel’s name was changed first to the Touraine and then to the Tourist. The tower could be seen easily from the railroad stations. It kept the name Tourist until replaced in 1960 with a parking lot. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: In the late afternoon and evening of Seattle’s Great Fire day, June 6, 1889, Leigh and Lizzie Hunt’s home at the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street was, within a few hours, arranged to accommodate the family’s business, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

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: When it was built in 1864 Charles and Mary Terry’s home was considered the finest in Seattle. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

THEN:

THEN: The original for this scene of a temporary upheaval on Mill Street (Yesler Way) was one of many historical prints given to the Museum of History and Industry many years ago by the Charles Thorndike estate. Thorndike was one of Seattle’s history buffs extraordinaire. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry.)

THEN: A half-century after they reached the top of First Hill, electric streets cars and cable cars prepare to leave it. (Courtesy, The Museum of History and Industry)

MORE NEIGHBORHOOD LINKS FROM PAST PACIFICS

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