Seattle Now & Then: Suess & Smith Art Glass, 1906

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Smith descendant Curt Green photographed this immense Suess & Smith three-panel window in about 1980 when it hung at the Frye Hotel. Its whereabouts are elusive. When was it made? Does it depict a real-life scene? If you have clues, please enter them below! (Curt Green)
THEN2: Workers at Suess & Smith look eastward outside their storefront at 2421 Western Ave. in about 1906. The firm’s move to Virginia Street near Westlake Avenue in 1909 came none too soon, as an eight-block fire on June 10, 1910, destroyed this building, including next-door Wall Street House, causing a total of $500,000 in damage. No one died. (Courtesy Curt Green)
NOW: Grouped across Western Avenue from the Belltown Apartments, where Suess & Smith Co. once stood, are (from left) Suess descendants Gloria Elda Suess Abbenhouse, Martin Suess Abbenhouse, Susan Marks and Keetje Abbenhuis, and Smith descendants Sebastian Schaad, Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, Theo Schaad, Deborah Riedesel, Paula Green, Curt Green, Jessica Murphy and David Green. (Jean Sherrard)

(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.

Cover of “Suess Ornamental Glass” by Deborah Suess Weaver, 2019.

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?

WEB EXTRAS

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.

To read more about Suess & Smith, click here. And to order Deborah Weaver’s, “Suess Ornamental Glass: Chicago~Seattle,” click here.

An alternate Suess & Smith exterior, 1906. (Courtesy Curt Green)
Suess & Smith interior, 1906. (Courtesy Curt Green)
Suess & Smith interior, 1906. (Courtesy Curt Green)
Suess & Smith interior, 1906. (Courtesy Curt Green)
Feb. 7, 1902, Seattle Times, page 12
May 13, 1902, Seattle Times, page 7
June 15, 1902, Seattle Times, page 31
Aug. 7, 1903, Seattle Times, page 4
Sept. 5, 1904, Seattle Times, page 12
July 9, 1906, Seattle Times, page 13
Sept. 10, 1907, Seattle Times, page 14
Dec. 1, 1907, Seattle Times, page 35
Aug. 21, 1908, Seattle Times, page 3
March 11, 1909, Seattle Times, page 11
March 11, 1910, Seattle Times, page 27
April 28, 1910, Seattle Times, page 3

June 11, 1910, Seattle Times, page 8
June 11, 1910, Seattle Times, page 8
June 12, 1910, Seattle Times, page 1
Aug. 21, 1910, Seattle Times, page 39

 

Jan. 18, 1911, Seattle Times, page 19
Aug. 2, 1911, Seattle Times, page 9
July 1, 1912, Seattle Times, page 11
July 21, 1912, Seattle Times, page 20
Sept. 19, 1915, Seattle Times, page 11
Sept. 26, 1915, Seattle Times, page 9
Jan. 2, 1916, Seattle Times, page 23
May 6, 1917, Seattle Times, page 11
July 1, 1917, Seattle Times, page 10
Dec. 9, 1917, Seattle Times, page 59
Dec. 16, 1917, Seattle Times, page 63
October 1909, The Coast magazine, describing Suess & Smith exhibit at Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. (Courtesy Deborah Suess Weaver)
From 1910 onward, Suess Art Glass (Courtesy Deborah Suess Weaver and Ron Edge)
1915, Suess Art Glass (Seattle Municipal Archives, courtesy Deborah Suess Weaver)
November 2015, Fall City Historical Society newsletter (Courtesy Fall City Historical Society, Deborah Suess Weaver)
Suess Art Glass (Courtesy Deborah Suess Weaver)
Suess Art Glass (Courtesy Deborah Suess Weaver)
Suess Art Glass (Courtesy Deborah Suess Weaver)

14 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Suess & Smith Art Glass, 1906”

  1. Nor sure how much of a clue to your puzzle. Your article mentioned the stained glass piece was hung at the Frye Hotel. I wondered if it’s the same Frye that opened a neat market in Skagway, AK, around 1900. i own the building the Frye Bruin opened his meat market in. Steve4848@yahoo com

  2. I cannot answer the most pertinent question where the panel is now and when was it made. However, I can comment on the scene. In the background, you see the iconic and majestic Heidelberg palace high above the Neckar river, see https://www.schloss-heidelberg.de/en/home. If the scene in the foreground is real then it would be on the North shore of the Neckar river in Neuenheim, a district of Heidelberg, and depict a scene with a student, probably from a fraternity.

  3. I agree with Joachim’s response.The fraternity could be Akademisch Musische Vereinigung Stauffia, their colors are red-white-gold.

  4. I worked at Abie Label & Assoc. located in the Frye (located at 3rd and Yesler) from 1982 to 1998. The window was mounted in Abie’s office and was illuminated. It was great fun to take visitors into Abie’s office, flip on the backlights and dim the room lights to show off this amazing work. When the Frye was sold the window (Abie’s personal property) was removed and I believe went to the Rainier Brewery. David Label, Abie’s son, could possibly provide you with more detailed information about the window

  5. A possible thought about the picture in today’s Seattle Times of the Suess and Smith masterwork——I think this is a somewhat fanciful view of the old Castle in Heidelberg Germany. The young man with the Beer Stein is wearing the traditional colors of a German Fraternity—the sash and stylized hat—it is a scene at an outdoor beer garden on one of the paths in the hills that surround Heidelberg’s ruined castle—the round tower and the rest of the castle look a good bit like the actual ruin today. The sign might be a star—the name of the biergarten? Just a guess. Studied in Heidelberg many years ago. Ron Patterson, Tacoma

  6. The panel depicts a scene from the musical “The Student Prince” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MU4FlasAY58) which is about a prince who goes to the University of Heidelberg and finds romance. The castle is recognizably Heidelberg castle while the waitress and the fellow in the fraternity uniform are the couple. My family lived in Heidelberg 1955-1958 and 1972-1975 while my father was stationed there with the U.S. Army.

    1. Further research: the Sigmund Romberg “Student Prince” operetta was first performed in1924 – probably well after the window was made, but the operetta was based on the play “Old Heidelberg”, written in 1901.

  7. A possible thought about the picture in today’s Seattle Times of the Suess and Smith masterwork——I think this is a somewhat fanciful view of the old Castle in Heidelberg Germany. The young man with the Beer Stein is wearing the traditional colors of a German Fraternity—the sash and stylized hat—it is a scene at an outdoor beer garden on one of the paths in the hills that surround Heidelberg’s ruined castle—the round tower and the rest of the castle look a good bit like the actual ruin today. The sign might be a star—the name of the biergarten? Just a guess. Studied in Heidelberg many years ago.

  8. If you’re still looking for the whereabouts of this panel, try Sanford and Son Antiques in Tacoma.

    https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/sanford-son-antiques

    There are some art glass panels in the shop that have been there since I first visited decades ago. I seem to remember them having something to do with the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the University of Washington campus. The panels are significant, and if they were fabricated locally, there may be a chance your featured Suess & Smith was the studio to have accomplished that. And perhaps the people that brought these panels to Sanford and Son may also have clues to the location of others of this origin and maybe your mystery panel.

    One of the panels I mention is on the right side of the center photograph on the link provided above. There are two more of that scale, mostly beveled glass and jewels and one with landscape.

    I hope this trail leads to some insight for you.
    George

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