(click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on May 7, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on May 10, 2020)
Help us solve the mystery of this Suess & Smith masterwork
By Clay Eals
This week, we present a puzzle. It centers on a national innovator in aesthetic glass that brightened downtown Seattle more than a century ago.
The glitter of the Gold Rush lured members of two German families, named Suess and Smith, to Seattle from Chicago in the late 1890s. But physical gold was not their destiny. Their Klondike expedition produced meager earnings, so in boomtown Seattle they marched to a different shimmer.
During the height of the international Art Nouveau movement, Suess & Smith Co. opened in 1901 on Western Avenue near Wall Street (in today’s Belltown), specializing in leaded, cut and stained glass. Soon it branched into plate and window glass for major buildings as well as memorial windows, lampshades, mirrors and “glass of all descriptions.” The business morphed in October 1906 to Suess Art Glass Co. and moved to Virginia Street near Westlake Avenue in fall 1909.
The firm’s display at that year’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the University of Washington campus drew acclaim from The Coast magazine as “one of the most attractive and interesting art exhibits upon the grounds, appealing to the truly artistic and demonstrating the high grade and excellence of the home product of a Seattle industry.”
Three years later, for the city’s second Golden Potlatch industrial parade, the company mounted an all-glass, award-winning float with an impact “never before seen in this country,” reported The Seattle Times. “Had the sun been shining as brilliantly as it did a few days before, it would have been almost impossible for anyone standing in the direct rays to withstand the brilliancy of the different prismatic effects from the reflection of lights on this float.”
Inspirational commissions abounded, from a triple window depicting recently slain President William McKinley for a Bremerton church in 1902 to the gleaming cupola for The Coliseum theater (today’s Banana Republic store) in 1916. The enterprise continued until at least 1951.
Today, descendants have dug into the genealogical and commercial history of both families. This work produced a book, “Suess Ornamental Glass: Chicago~Seattle,” by Deborah Suess Weaver of Tonasket. On the Smith side, Theo Schaad of West Seattle also has written a lengthy narrative.
Here’s the puzzle: The families seek details about a Suess & Smith stained-glass masterwork they feel deserves public display. It’s a gold-hued, 7-by-10-foot, three-panel piece (see top of page) depicting a couple in what might be a Bavarian courtyard. It once hung at the Frye Hotel at Second and Yesler. Clues to its whereabouts lead to Skagway, Alaska, “Gateway to the Klondike,” but the coronavirus might limit access there for now.
Might you, kind readers, have information or insight to keep this inquiry aglow?
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column, when it is posted Thursday afternoon!
As a special treat courtesy of the Fall City Historical Society, we present a complete scan, in three parts, of the 80-page sales book “Ornamental Glass: Suess Ornamental Glass Company, Chicago, Illinois” (1904). You can access the three parts here:
Also, see this link to a Fall City Historical Society brief on that town’s Neighbor-Bennett House, which features Suess glasswork.
Below are nine additional photos as well as 31 clippings, mostly from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column.