Seattle Now & Then: Before Smith Tower, 1908

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN1: A gaggle of storefronts anchors this view, facing east, of the busy northeast corner of Second and Yesler in 1908. The businesses are (from left) Babcock’s Café and Grill, Alexander Gandolfo’s grocery featuring butter, Bartell’s Owl Drug Store (open day and night!), Nessim Alhadeff’s Palace Market, later Palace Fish and Oyster (likely an Alhadeff stands in the shop’s meat-arched entry), and Joe Dizard’s cigar store. All but the café moved to nearby locations after being demolished. (Courtesy, MOHAI 1983.10.7669.3)
THEN2: (From left) George H. Bartell, Sr. (1868-1956) founded the nation’s oldest family owned drugstore until its sale to Rite-Aid last October. L.C. Smith died at the age of 60 four years before his namesake building was completed. Nessim Alhadeff (1864-1950) was patriarch to another Northwest business and racetrack dynasty, besides helping to establish the largest community of Sephardic Jews outside New York City. Future maritime restauranteur Ivar Haglund (1905-1985), in the lap of father Johan, purchased the Smith Tower for $1.8 million in 1976, famously adorning it with a fish windsock. (Courtesy, Paul Dorpat, Public Domain, and Ivar’s)
NOW: L.C. Smith’s namesake building (1914) claims a dubious 42 stories on a bronze plaque besides its entrance, although the most generous observer would count 38. Originally tarred as ungainly (“a giraffe”, sniffed one critic), steel-framed and clad in white terra cotta, it stands today as a beloved Seattle landmark. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on March 11, 2021
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on March 14, 2021 )

Commercial visionaries meet for a towering talk in 1909
By Jean Sherrard

The place: inside Bartell’s Owl Drugstore on Second Avenue, just north of Yesler Way. The milieu: a lovely evening. This vignette is imagined, but the historical details are factual!

The proprietor arranges a display in his shop window. The entry bell jingles. In walks a well-dressed customer.

Smith: George Bartell, isn’t it?

Bartell: Lyman Cornelius Smith, as I live and breathe. Let me guess. You’re here for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition?

Smith: Indeed. All the way from Syracuse in upstate New York, and well worth the trip. Seattle has surely proven her mettle with this magnificent world’s fair.

Bartell: So what can I do you for, L.C.? Liver pills, trusses? Our new Syrup of Hypophosphates is a fine picker-upper.

Smith: I have news, George. I’ll be turning 60 next year. I’m no Carnegie, but I’ve done all right.

Bartell: Can’t hardly go wrong manufacturing shotguns and typewriters, L.C.

Smith: Truth is, I’m inclined to erect something special right here on this spot. Make my mark.

Bartell: Mighty kind of you to give me notice personally.

Smith: You’ve been here, what, 10 years?

Bartell: Eleven. After my year in the Yukon in ’98.

Smith: Didn’t “pan out,” eh? (He chuckles.) I was thinking 18 stories tall, but my son Burns wants to go higher.

Bartell: Just opened my fourth drug store, L.C. I say go big or go home.

Smith: Which is why I asked my architects — the Gaggins brothers — to up the ante. How’s 42 stories sound?

Bartell whistles appreciatively.

Smith: Tallest building west of the Mississippi. Steel-framed, white terra cotta, my initials carved on every floor.

The bell jingles again. In walks a man in a butcher’s apron. He offers a package.

Man: Two pounds of nice fresh cod for you, George. Just what the doctor ordered.

Bartell: L.C., this is Nessim Alhadeff. Runs the Palace Market next door.

Alhadeff: Sold Mr. Smith oysters a few years back when I first signed the lease. Are rumors true? You will tickle the sky?

Smith (with a laugh): Scrape the clouds, Nessim. And how’s family life?

Alhadeff: My brothers are here working for me now — all from the Isle of Rhodes. My English is still not so good, but getting better.

Yet again, the bell jingles. In walk a man and boy of 4 or 5.

Man: Got anything for an upset tummy? My boy ate too much cotton candy at the fair.

Bartell: Seltzer, maybe?

Man: Say “Thank you,” Ivar.


For our 360 degree video in living color (and dramatic black and white), narrated by Jean, please click on through here.

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