The 101-year-old edifice represents a customer-focused tradition at a prominent corner, hovering over the Lake Washington Ship Canal at the south end of the Fremont Bridge.
Serving bereaved families until 2017, the same year it was designated a Seattle landmark, it has entered a new phase as a fully leased office building, anchored by The North Face apparel firm. The pandemic-era preservation triumph was stewarded by its current owner, Pastakia & Associates of Seattle, and general contractor, Bellevue-based Foushée.
The stately, 2-1/2-floor concrete structure arose just four years after the ship canal and bridge were completed. Illinois-born Jacob Bleitz (pronounced “Blites”) had worked as an undertaker in Wichita before establishing a funeral business in 1904 in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood. After short partnerships in Fremont with morticians Edgar Ray Butterworth and John Rafferty, he crossed the bridge and settled his sole-owner mortuary in 1921 along Queen Anne’s industrial northern edge.
From the start, dealing with death transcended mere business for Bleitz. He promoted affordability and excoriated undertakers he called predatory. “The People of Seattle Have Been Outrageously Overcharged for Funerals and Materials,” roared a full-page notice in the Feb. 18, 1915, Seattle Star. His ads promised the “lowest” prices. One even warned of “graft” by competitors whom Bleitz said gave away hundreds of Christmas turkeys to induce referrals.
Long before it became popular, Bleitz also encouraged a cheaper alternative: cremation. In the late 1930s, he went further, patenting and using an ultra-hot-flame technique leaving no remains, called evaporation: “The New And Better Way … COSTS NO MORE … Gives a comfort never before known.” It didn’t catch on.
In the year Bleitz died, 1939, the family firm partnered with the new People’s Memorial Benefit Association, a cooperative that emphasized spiritual rather than material aspects of attending to the bereaved. Later, the Bleitz company became known in funeral circles for serving AIDS victims and the LGBTQ+ community when other mortuaries rejected them.
Over the years, Bleitz Funeral Home handled more than 180,000 deaths, including the cremations of famed grunge rockers Andrew Wood in 1990 and Kurt Cobain in 1994. Today the building showcases “adaptive reuse,” meriting an award in May from the Queen Anne Historical Society.
Historian Michael Emmick embodies the Bleitz legacy via family connections. Working stints at Bleitz were Michael’s great-grandfather, Sam Frederiksen (1970s-80s); father, Craig Emmick (1975-2004); and wife, Desirée Emmick, (2015-17). Since 2014, the Emmicks have operated their own West Seattle funeral business, guided by the Bleitz approach — as Michael says, “not selling people something they don’t need.”
Thanks to Eric Jones, Tejal Pastakia, Bob Carney and the Emmicks — Craig, Desirée and especially Michael — for their help with this installment.
To see Clay Eals‘ 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.