Seattle Now & Then: The Denny Hotel

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: The Denny aka Washington Hotel on the double-block of Denny Hill’s southern summit. The view looks southwest over the intersection of Virginia Street and Fourth Avenue. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Once lowered about 100 feet, the blocks between Stewart and Virginia Streets and Second and Fourth Avenues were developed with a variety of post-Victorian structures, including the New Washington Hotel (now the Josephenum Apartments) at the northeast corner of Steward Street and Second Avenue. It is the brick early 14-story high-rise at 1902 2nd Ave. here right-of-center.

Gather round. It’s is time to repeat an old story about the commanding Arthur Denny, who, as the older of the two brothers who in 1851 first settled on Alki Point, has been generally considered the city’s founder and sometimes father. Denny first named the hill he owned at the north end of his claim, Capitol Hill. When his Seattle began both to fill in and out, the ‘papa pioneer’ expected that Washington Territory’s legislators, of which he was one, would ultimately flee Olympia and relocate their capitol on his hill and  high above Seattle’s expanding commercial district.  The move seemed a sensible expectation, but proved, however, to be more hunch than hit.  Still, beginning in 1881, Seattle became the Territory’s largest community and stayed so.  That was a mere thirty years after Denny and his party of mostly mid-western farmers with urban ambitions landed on Alki Point.

Looking south on Third Avenue from the front (south) summit of Denny Hill during the construction there of the Denny Hotel, later renamed the Washington Hotel. (Courtesy, Dan Kerlee)

Denny’s friends and fellow champions were just as pleased to name his hill for him. He was famously sober, steadfast, and demonstrably modest with the exception of his name, which he enjoyed having attached to real estate.  Consequently, in 1888 ambitious friends convinced him to trade his political hopes for his hill into proprietary ones, while changing the hill’s name from Capitol to Denny.

Main lobby of the Denny Hotel. The grand entrance was to the left (south) and the registry desk to the right beside the steps that led to four flours of accommodations. (Courtesy, University of Washington, Northwest Collection)

On March 20, 1889, less than three months before the city’s Great Fire of June 6, Arthur announced his plan to build a grand namesake hotel on his hill.  In place of a capitol building he would settle for a Victorian landmark with 400 beds, one-hundred more than Tacoma’s Tacoma Hotel.  Here (in the featured photo at the top) the Denny Hotel is recorded by a Webster and Stevens Studio photographer who is looking southwest from the northeast corner of Virginia Street and Fourth Avenue.  Printed from a large glass negative, it is in the keep of MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry.)  The year is 1903, or fourteen years after construction began, and the hotel was not yet finished.*  A combination of infighting among the investors, the size and expense of the place, and the 1893 economic crash with the doldrums that followed, turned the grand hotel into a “ghost palace”, “white elephant” or “unsightly mass”, all names attributed to it in the local press.

Above and below: Looking north over the Steward Avenue “ditch” to the decorated hotel at the time of its opening in 1903. (Courtesy, University of Washington Libraries, Northwest Collection)

The May 23, 1903 issue of the weekly The Seattle Mail and Herald. (Click to Enlarge)
The Denny Hotel from Second Avenue looking north. (Courtesy Dan Kerlee)
Looking south of Third Avenue from Blanchard Street (near the northern summit of Denny Hill) at the rear of the as yet unopened or renamed Denny Hotel.  The Northern Pacific photographer F. Jay Haynes, most likely recorded this in in 1892, and so still eleven years before the hotel was first opened to Theodore Roosevelt and his entourage as the Washington Hotel.
Looking north on Third Avenue from the rear of the Denny Hotel. Queen Anne Hill is on the horizon. (Courtesy, Lucy Campbell Coe)  CLICK to ENLARGE

Still empty, the hotel was being polished and prepared for its first guest, President Theodore Roosevelt.  Sometime not long after Roosevelt anointed the landmark, Arthur Lingenbrink, my long-since deceased friend, visited the hotel with his parents and younger brother Paul, all of whom had moved to Seattle in 1903. When the family first approached the city from the south above the Union Pacific’s tidelands trestle, the gregarious ten-year-old Arthur, better

Arthur Lingenbrink in his basement studio on Capitol Hill.

known as Link, was dazzled by the hotel on the hill.  Link kept his eye on the hotel, which by then was renamed the Washington Hotel by its new owner, James Moore, at the time Seattle’s super developer.  The name change did not bother the founder.  Arthur Denny died in 1899.   The short-lived hotel’s demise followed in 1906, when this double-block was razed to its present elevations, early in the regrade of Denny Hill.

James Moore, the local super-developer who first opened the Denny Hotel in 1903 and renamed it the Washington Hotel.
First printed in The Times on May 14, 2000.


I’ve clambered around atop the Hotel Andra several times to repeat old prospects and my invaluable guide and pal Chief Engineer Brian Cunningham has always been along for the ride. Thanks, Brian!

Brian Cunningham on the Hotel Andra roof

Anything to add, my dears?  Edge Clips from the neighborhood below and a few more to follow with their dangling texts.

THEN: An early-20th-century scene during the Second Avenue Regrade looks east into its intersection with Virginia Avenue. A home is being moved from harm's way, but the hotel on the hill behind it would not survive the regrade's spoiling. Courtesy of Ron Edge.

THEN: Steel beams clutter a freshly regraded Second Avenue during the 1907 construction of the Moore Theatre. The view looks north toward Virginia Street.

THEN: Before this the first shovel of the last of Denny Hill was ceremonially dropped to the conveyor belt at Battery Street, an “initial bite of 30,000 cubic yards of material” was carved from the cliff along the east side of 5th Avenue to make room for both the steam shovel and several moveable belts that extended like fingers across the hill. It was here that they met the elevated and fixed last leg of the conveyor system that ran west on Battery Street to the waterfront. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: Seattle Architect Paul Henderson Ryan designed the Liberty Theatre around the first of many subsequent Wurlitzer organs used for accompanying silent films in theatres “across the land”. The Spanish-clad actor-dancers posed on the stage apron are most likely involved in a promotion for a film – perhaps Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) or Douglas Fairbanks’ The Gaucho (1929) that also played at the Liberty. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)





THEN: In 1910, a circa date for this look north on First Avenue across Virginia Street, the two corners on the east side of the intersection were still undeveloped – except for signs. The Terminal Sales Building, seen far right in Jean Sherrard’s repeat, did not replace the billboards that crowd the sidewalk in the “then” until 1923. (Seattle Municipal Archive)

THEN: Sometime between early December 1906 and mid-February 1907 an unnamed photographer with her or his back about two lots north of Pike Street recorded landmarks on the east side of Third Avenue including, in part, the Washington Bar stables, on the right; the Union Stables at the center, a church converted for theatre at Pine Street, and north of Pine up a snow-dusted Denny Hill, the Washington Hotel. (Used courtesy of Ron Edge)

THEN: Looking south from Pine Street down the wide Second Avenue in 1911, then Seattle’s growing retail strip and parade promenade. (courtesy of Jim Westall)

THEN: Where last week the old Washington Hotel looked down from the top of Denny Hill to the 3rd Ave. and Pine St. intersection, on the left, here the New Washington Hotel, left of center and one block west of the razed hotel, towers over the still new Denny Regrade neighborhood in 1917. (Historical photo courtesy of Ron Edge)

THEN: Built in 1888-89 at the northeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Pine Street, the then named Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church marked the southeast corner of Denny Hill. Eventually the lower land to the east of the church (here behind it) would be filled, in part, with hill dirt scraped and eroded from North Seattle lots to the north and west of this corner. (Courtesy, Denny Park Lutheran Church)

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: Thanks again and again to Lawton Gowey for another contribution to this feature, this ca. 1917 look into a fresh Denny Regrade and nearly new “office-factory” at 1921 Fifth Avenue. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey.)

THEN: St. Vincent de Paul’s first storefront opened in 1926 in Belltown’s grand clapboard hostelry at the corner of First and Battery. Originally the Bellevue Hotel, it’s reduced here to the “house keeping and transient rooms” of the Bay State Hotel. (MOHAI)

THEN: Looking west (not east) on Battery Street from Seventh Avenue, approaching the end of the last of Denny Hill’s six regrade reductions. The dirt was carried to Elliott Bay on conveyor belts like the two shown here. (courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives)

THEN 1: Recorded on April 14, 1928, about sixth months before the Denny Hill Regrade No. 2 began, the last of the scarred Denny Hill rises to the right of Fifth Avenue. Denny School (1884) tops the hill at the northeast corner of Battery Street and Fifth Avenue. On the horizon, at center, Queen Anne Hill is topped by its namesake high school, and on the right of the panorama, the distant Wallingford neighborhood rises from the north shore of Lake Union. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)



The right (south) half of this pan is interpreted below.  CLICK TO ENLARGE (Courtesy, Washington State Museum, Tacoma.  The pan (of three parts) was photographed from the Washington Hotel by A. Curtis.)


Denny Hill from First Hill



I photographed this “now” while on my way to a HISTORYLINK meeting, then in the Joshua Green Building at the southwest corner of Pike and 4th Avenue.


First printed in The Times on February, 6, 2000.


CLICK TO ENLARGE – Assemble out of Seattle Now and Then, Vol. 1.


Denny Hill and its hotel recorded from the King Street Coal Wharf.  CLICK TO ENLARGE


Looking north on Third Avenue from near Spring Street with the Plymouth Congregational Church on the right at University Street. (Courtesy, Lawton Gowey)



Capitol Hill from Denny Hill

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