Seattle Now & Then: Rosario Resort, 1921

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Dominating the Rosario music room, circa 1921, is its 1,972-pipe Aeolian organ, hidden behind nonfunctional, decorative mahogany pipes. Here, visitors enjoyed daily organ concerts directed by Moran. At center above is a stained-glass depiction of Belgium’s Antwerp harbor that Moran commissioned. (Asahel Curtis, courtesy Rosario Resort & Spa)
NOW1: For the first time after a 15-month pandemic shutdown, Christopher Peacock, general manager of Rosario Resort & Spa, performs for guests several piano pieces, accompanied by island images, in the mansion’s music room on Jan. 21. Peacock, who also plays the room’s Aeolian organ from a balcony, has provided regular concerts for visitors for an astounding 42 years. In 1985, the historian published a 72-page, 123-photo book, “Rosario Yesterdays,” that is still on sale. More info: (Clay Eals)

Published in The Seattle Times online on March 23, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on March 26, 2023

The ‘happy airs’ of Orcas waft from Robert Moran’s Rosario Resort
By Clay Eals

Early on a Sunday 102 years ago, “strains of wonderful music” awoke newspaper writer Dolly Madison as she stayed at the Orcas Island mansion of retired Seattle mayor, shipbuilder and philanthropist Robert Moran.

“Hazy visions of heaven, with its choirs of sweet singers and golden harps, arose,” she wrote. “Near and nearer the sound traveled. The faint notes of a pipe organ became discernible. The music grew louder; then louder. Phrases were recognized. Suddenly an avalanche of sound pealed forth; low, deep notes; the warbling of birds; then the snatches of happy airs.”

THEN2: In this southwest-facing view from the 1920s, Moran’s Rosario five-floor mansion, situated on the east leg of Orcas Island, overlooks Cascade Bay. The island’s west leg is in the background. (Asahel Curtis, courtesy Rosario Resort & Spa)

Her senses didn’t deceive her. Routinely, Moran manipulated player rolls to create sunrise sounds on his 1,972-pipe German organ — an Aeolian (after the god of wind). The 1913 instrument still weaves magic in the five-floor, 117-year-old “Shangri-La” that Moran named Rosario, for the nearby strait.

NOW2: The same vantage today shows Robert Moran’s mansion and grounds at Rosario Resort & Spa. The complex includes a marina, dining, lodging and next-door proximity to Moran State Park. (Clay Eals)

Expanded and run as a resort under several owners since 1960, it’s again for sale. The Barto family of Anacortes seeks an entity to implement a 10-year, Seabrook/Suncadia-like redevelopment while retaining Moran’s vision and integrity.

Moran (1857-1943) forged an impressive if improbable existence. Born in New York slums, he arrived at Yesler’s wharf in Seattle at age 17 with only a dime. Seven years hence, the entrepreneurial machinist founded Moran Brothers drydock, which over two decades built steamers, barges and the USS Nebraska, a battleship active from 1904 to 1923.

THEN3: Robert Moran in 1889, while serving as Seattle mayor in the year of the Great Fire. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

Along the way, Moran won two one-year terms as Seattle mayor, straddling the city’s devastating Great Fire in 1889. Though lauded for swift recovery measures, Moran later deflected such praise:

“The fire simply cleared the ground and made it possible to build what is today one of the most beautiful cities in the United States,” he told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1909. “It did more than that, however. As the electrical engineer would say, it put the ‘peak’ load on its citizens, morally and physically.”

Moran was facing his own challenge of destiny. Told by doctors at age 47 that he had six months to live, he left his Seattle empire and in 1906 decamped to peaceful Orcas, “the gem of the San Juans.” There, he bought thousands of acres and carefully built his waterfront Rosario estate in the new landscape amid family and frequent guests, living to age 86.

Guiding him were the hand-hewn Arts & Crafts movement, his long-held shipbuilding sensibilities and a deep respect for nature, which inspired his donation of what became next-door Moran State Park, including the breathtaking 2,400-foot Mount Constitution.

Who will carry on Moran’s life-enhancing showpiece? Perhaps they only will need to experience its music.

VIDEO (33:06): Click the image above to see Christopher Peacock perform part of his Jan. 21, 2023, concert on the Rosario Resort & Spa’s 1,972-pipe Aeolian organ. (Clay Eals)


Special thanks to Patty Johnson, Scott Cameron, Meg Eals and especially Christopher Peacock for their invaluable 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.

Below are 5 additional photos and, in chronological order, 63 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

THEN4: Visitors in the 1920s enjoy the southern veranda of Robert Moran’s Rosario while others play croquet nearer to Cascade Bay below. Today the veranda is enclosed as a dining area. (Asahel Curtis, courtesy Rosario Resort & Spa)
NOW3: Robert Moran’s mansion at twilight. (Clay Eals)
NOW4: The resort’s bowtie pond, which Moran built in 1915 for his wife Melissa’s canoeing. (Clay Eals)
NOW5: A Visitor Center placard at Mount Constitution in Moran State Park salutes Robert Moran’s contribution of the park land to Washington state. (Clay Eals)
NOW6: A Visitor Center placard at Mount Constitution in Moran State Park quotes Robert Moran’s desire to respect the natural aspects of thousands of Orcas Island acres that he purchased, many of which he donated to the state. (Clay Eals)
Oct. 15, 1904, San Juan Islander.
March 24, 1906, San Juan Islander.
Feb. 2, 1907, San Juan Islander.
May 12, 1908, Seattle Times, p12.
June 6, 1909, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p95.
Aug. 22, 1909, Seattle Times, p50.
Aug. 22, 1909, Seattle Times, p55.
July 14, 1910, Seattle Times, p18.
Nov. 20, 1910, Seattle Times, p23.
Aug. 2, 1912, San Juan Islander.
Aug. 2, 1912, San Juan Islander.
July 29, 1917, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p47.
June 27, 1921, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p11.
June 27, 1921, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p11A.
July 17, 1921, Seattle Times, p9.
July 18, 1921, Seattle Times, p15.
Aug. 23, 1925, Seattle Times, p82.
July 20, 1928, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p8.
May 25, 1927, Seattle Times, p1-3.
April 30, 1933, Seattle Times, p28.
July 30, 1933, Seattle Times, p27.
Sept. 12, 1935, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p6.
Sept. 30, 1938, Seattle Times, p13.
Oct. 7, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p1-4.
Oct. 9, 1938, Seattle Times, p11.
Oct. 8, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p6.
April 1, 1943, Anacortes American.
Feb. 21, 1949, Seattle Times, p24.
Sept. 11, 1955, Seattle Times, p140.
Feb. 22, 1958, Seattle Times, p10.
Dec. 14, 1958, Seattle Times, p120.
April 10, 1960, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p4.
July 15, 1961, Seattle Times, p9.
March 4, 1963, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p9.
March 1, 1964, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p35.
March 1, 1964, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p36.
April 20, 1968, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p23.
July 29, 1979, Seattle Times, p26.
April 22, 1980, Seattle Times, p28.
April 23, 1980, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p18.
Feb. 15, 1981, Seattle Times, p254.
Feb. 15, 1981, Seattle Times, p264.
Feb. 15, 1981, Seattle Times, p265.
Feb. 15, 1981, Seattle Times, p266.
Feb. 15, 1981, Seattle Times, p269.
Feb. 15, 1981, Seattle Times, p267.
Nov. 1, 1981, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p24.
Jan. 26, 1984, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p21.
Feb. 24, 1984, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p25.
Aug. 24, 1984, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p21.
Aug. 25, 1984, Seattle Times, p1.
Aug. 25, 1984, Seattle Times, p11.
Sept. 9, 1984, Seattle Times, p56.
Sept. 1, 1985, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p162.
Jan. 12, 1986, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p156.
Sept. 27, 1987, Seattle Times, p118.
Sept. 27, 1987, Seattle Times, p121.
Sept. 16, 1990, Seattle Times, p179.
Sept. 16, 1990, Seattle Times, p183.
Sept. 16, 1990, Seattle Times, p181.
Sept. 16, 1990, Seattle Times, p185.
July 18, 1993, Seattle Times, p107.
July 18, 1993, Seattle Times, p108.
Oct. 26, 1995, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p62.
June 5, 1996, Anacortes American.
June 5, 1996, Anacortes American.
June 5, 1996, Anacortes American.
April 30, 1998, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p10.
Oct. 30, 1998, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p20.
Oct. 9, 1999, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p30.
Dec. 31, 1999, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p40.
April 8, 2001, Seattle Times, p173, “Now & Then.”
Sept. 11, 2002, Islands Sounder, p1.
Jan. 15, 2004, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p54.
Jan. 15, 2004, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p55.
May 19, 2004, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p104.
Aug. 13, 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p21-24.
Aug. 13, 2008, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, pC1.
Aug. 23, 2008, Seattle Times, pC1.
June 24, 2021, Islands Sounder, p1.
Aug. 25, 2008, Islands Sounder, p1.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Rosario Resort, 1921”

  1. Rosario Resort pipe organ —
    The Aeolian Co., New York City, c. 1887; Detroit, Michigan, 1899; Garwood, New Jersey, 1900.
    Opus 1047, 1913.

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