Seattle Now & Then: The Armour Building

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The Chicago packer’s J. Ogden Armour’s namesake building at the northeast corner of Third avenue and Jackson Street, ca. 1912.
NOW: A glass-enclosed stairway now leads from the Second Avenue Extension down to the track level of King Street Station.

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.  

Detail from a mid-1920’s Seattle map showing the footprint for the Armour Building and many of its neighbors.

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.  

The Armour building as it preferred to be seen from the GN Depot. The photo also displays  a variety of U.S. Postal Service vehicles. The top floors of the Richmond Hotel on the southeast corner of Main and 4th Avenue rise above the Jackson Street level approach to the GN Depot. [CLICK TO ENLARGE]

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.

Taken from the Smith Tower, this real photo postcard reveals the neighborhood southeast of the tower a few years before the 1928-29 Second Avenue extension razed the Armour Building and much else.  This ca. 1919 panorama shows the relative size of the Armour building (just below the subject’s center) and the Richmond Hotel, far left.  You may wish to compare this pan with the two that are placed below near the end of this  exposition – the written part – which were also taken from the Smith Tower a few years later.  [Click to enlarge]
A Seattle Times clipping from November 1, 1909
The Times review of the opening in a clip from Nov. 4, 1909.

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. 

From the Times for April 22, 1915.

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.   

Construction on the Second Ave. Extension through the block that previously held the Armour Building. The view looks southeast with the Union Depot on the Right.
Second Avenue Extension looking north from the RR Station for a variety of railroads, i.e. a “union station” for the Milwaulkee RR, the Union Pacific, the Oregon and Washington RR, and others.
Detail from the 1912 Baist Map through which someone has drawn the thruway for the Second Avenue Extension. Note the Armour Building at the bottom-right and the Fire Department Headquarters, near the center of the subject.  Of these  working landmarks were razed for the 1928-29 Extension.
Before the extension – nearly. The photograph from the Smith Tower is dated March 14, 1928. The southeast corner of Second Avenue and Washington Street has just been razed. [Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive]
After the extension (just) with neither the Fire Station nor the Armour. Photographed on June 11, 1920.


A couple more shots in the vicinity:

Looking north into the railroad tunnel
Old graffitied columns support Fourth Avenue’s west side

And in answer to Eric Adman’s query – here’s a detail from the historic photo:

Graffiti on the boxcar?

Anything to add, amigos?   Yes, and germane Jean: Edge Links and a few more relevant and more ancient features.



THEN: Looking northwest from the 4th Avenue trestle towards the Great Northern Depot during its early 20th Century construction. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: 1934 was one of the worst years of the Great Depression. This look north on Third Avenue South through Main Street and the Second Avenue South Extension was recorded on Thursday, April 19th of that year. Business was generally dire, but especially here in this neighborhood south of Yesler Way where there were many storefront vacancies. (Courtesy Ron Edge)

THEN: In the older scene daring steel workers pose atop construction towers during the 1910 building of the Union Depot that faces Jackson Street.

When compared to most city scenes relatively little has changed in his view west on Main Street from First Avenue South in the century-plus between them. (Historical photo courtesy of Lawton Gowey)

Then: The Pacific House, behind the line-up of white-gloved soldiers, might have survived well into the 20th Century were it not destroyed during Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889. Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry

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: At Warshal's Workingman's Store a railroad conductor, for instance, could buy his uniform, get a loan, and/or hock his watch. Neighbors in 1946 included the Apollo Cafe, the Double Header Beer Parlor, and the Circle Theatre, all on Second Avenue.

THEN: The Freedman Building on Maynard Avenue was construction soon after the Jackson Street Regrade lowered the neighborhood and dropped Maynard Avenue about two stories to its present grade in Chinatown. (Photo courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: This “real photo postcard” was sold on stands throughout the city. It was what it claimed to be; that is, its gray tones were real. If you studied them with magnification the grays did not turn into little black dots of varying sizes. (Courtesy, David Chapman and

THEN: Looking north-northeast from the corner of Main Street and Occidental Avenue two or three weeks after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy the Museum of History and Industry – MOHAI)

THEN: Looking north from Yesler Way over the Fifth Avenue regrade in 1911. Note the Yesler Way Cable rails and slot at the bottom. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: Built in 1900 the Corgiat Building lost its cornice and identifying sign to the 1949 earthquake. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: This view looking east from First Avenue South on Jackson Street in 1904, is still four years short of the Jackson Street Regrade during which the distant horizon line near 9th Avenue was lowered by more than 70 feet. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: The Phoenix Hotel on Second Avenue, for the most part to the left of the darker power pole, and the Chin Gee Hee Building, behind it and facing Washington Street to the right, were both built quickly after Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy: Museum of History and Industry.)

















An early view north from the Great Northern Tower a few years before the construction of both the Armour Building and the Richmond Hotel  [CLICK to ENLARGE]

5 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Armour Building”

  1. 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.

    1. 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…

    2. 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.

  2. 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.

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