(click to enlarge photos)
While surely formidable, the Armour and Co. building at the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Jackson Street was not designed to be admired on the merits of its east façade, as seen here looking west from the sidewalk on the west side of Fourth Avenue South. Instead the building’s show-front looked south over Jackson Street to the railroad depots. The railroad tracks showing here connect the Great Northern Depot with the tunnel that still passes north under the business district to the foot of Belltown’s Virginia Street. The tunnel, first opened in 1905, was the best reason why J. Ogden Armour, the “millionaire Chicago packer,” chose this location for his refrigerated distribution center for the Pacific Northwest, as well as Alaska, which was then still paying for some of its meat with nuggets. Seattle was also nearer than either California or Portland to the hoped-for meat eaters of the Far East.
Among Armour’s nationally distributed offerings were Star, “The Ham What Am,” and “Simon Pure” leaf lard. Billboards for those once popular brands stand on the roof built over the reinforced concrete delivery apron that was for the ready use of trucks and teams off Jackson Street, where the Armour Building climbed to its crown without interruption. The height of this building was six -, or seven -, or even eight – stories, depending upon one’s prospect and also upon how one counts floors.
In the Armour’s featured photo put at the top of this little essay and above the tracks, the building’s cornice reveals a shortage of symmetry. Above the sidewalk on Jackson Street the building’s crown is larger [see the photo directly above] than that turned out atop the windowless brick wall on the north, or right, side. The east side also makes another construction confession, of sorts. In 1908 the company lost in its efforts to convince the Seattle City Council that it be permitted to eliminate an exterior fire escape and standpipe on the grounds that its sturdy new northwest headquarters would have both inside. And, besides, the owners reasoned, the building was fire proof. Instead, the two unwanted fire apparatus climb the east façade together. Given the short life of the Armour Building, they were most likely never used.
On November 2, 1909, Armour’s Northwest manager Thomas Kleinogle introduced the plant to 20,000 visitors. Kleinogle also served sandwiches, pickles and coffee throughout the day, accompanied by an orchestra. The Times faint review (above) had the musicians playing an “interesting program.” The engine room in the basement was a steady draw. It ran the plant’s refrigerating machines, coolers, and a steam-heating plant. It also controlled the atmosphere for six smokehouses, the sweet pickling of meats, and the churning room for the company’s butter (ultimately two-thousand pounds a day). And the Armour Building soon had tenants, including the first home for Seattle’s Sears and Roebuck, electrical equipment manufacturers NePage McKenny, Waak-Killen Piano Co. and the Seattle Branch for the Pennsylvania Oilproof Vacuum Cup Tires, which were understandably popular on Seattle’s perilously slippery hills.
A decade more and the doors were again opened, on May 4, 1919, to the public for inspection, including what The Times complimented as a “splendid new beef cooling room.” Armour had spent $100,000 on its newest improvements. Just eight years later the company was paid, by court order, $400,000 for the building, the most valuable property razed during the course of the 1928-29 Second Avenue Extension.
A couple more shots in the vicinity:
And in answer to Eric Adman’s query – here’s a detail from the historic photo:
Anything to add, amigos? Yes, and germane Jean: Edge Links and a few more relevant and more ancient features.
FOUR OR FIVE YEARS BEFORE THE ARMOUR
5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Armour Building”
It looks like there is a little graffiti on the train car in the historic photo. Do you think that’s what I’m seeing? I think of that as a relatively modern phenomenon.
Hi Eric, I zoomed in on the box car in the ‘Then’ photo and found that what might appear to be graffiti spells out “Armour” – I’ll add it in to our Web Extras for your examination…
If you can find a copy of To Seattle by Trolley by Warren Wing, you can see quite a graphic historic chalk graffito on a train car. I’m surprised the author didn’t notice it, but he was pretending it didn’t exist.
This is great Paul and Jean!
I wrote about “the hoped-for meat eaters of the Far East” in this article:
It’s not graffiti in the way we know it today. It was common in that era through the 50’s or 60’s for railroad workers to chalk mark cars as an aid to switching and sometimes repair. This particular mark undoubtedly simply tells the crew the car is to be spotted at Armour.