Lawton Gowey was a regular visitor to the demolition scene of the Seattle Hotel. His collection of Kodachrome slides records nearly the entire process of the destruction of the 1890 landmark. Gowey dated this slide June 8, 1961. The demolition work began with the interior on the third of April, and here, two months later, most of the top floor is gone.
The removal of the ornate cornice at the top of the five and one-half story landmark got an early start with the city’s 1949 earthquake. For safety, and probably for economy too, much of it was removed following the quake. Still, the hotel stayed opened until the spring of 1960, when its closure was announced. It was widely assumed that it would soon be razed – not renovated. The same was expected for its then still on the skids Pioneer Square, the city’s most historic neighborhood.
Citizen response, however, was surprising. In an attempt to save the hotel, a local cadre of preservationists quickly formed. Although that battle was lost, the enthusiasts for local heritage won the war by saving the neighborhood. The city’s new Department of Community Development, the DCD, formed the Pioneer Square Historic District in 1970.
By this time the four-floor parking lot that was built on the hotel’s flatiron footprint was commonly called the “Sinking Ship Garage.” It is still one of our best local jokes. The garage’s architect-engineers, Gilbert Mandeville and Gudmund Berge, were fresh off their 1959 success as local consultants for the Logan Building at Fifth Avenue and Union Street, the city’s first glass curtain box. Here, in Pioneer Square, they added what they and its owners considered a compliment to the historic neighborhood: a basket-handle shaped railing made of pipe, a kind of undulating cornice, that ran along the top of the concrete garage.
Lawton Gowey loved the Smith Tower. His juxtaposition of the well-wrought tower, the injured hotel, and the wrecker’s crane is at once elegant and ambivalent.
Anything to add, lads? Golly Jean, yes. Ron Edge has put up two links to past features. Both are rich with references to this triangle. Following that are few more relevant clips cut from past Pacifics.
Most of the surviving photographs of the short-lived (five years) Occidental Hotel record it from the front, where its narrow western façade looked back across the busy Pioneer Place, or Square. This view from the rear looks northwest across the intersection of Second Avenue and Mill Street (Yesler Way) in 1887, while the nearly final touches on the hotel’s new addition are being applied.
The original 1884 structure is to the left of scaffolding (in the photo at the top), rising here from the sidewalk beside Mill Street. Portland architect Donald MacKay shaped the building to fit this rare, for Seattle, flatiron-shaped block. At the top, and wrapping around the 1887 addition, is architect Otto Kleemer’s (also from
Portland) well-wrought mansard roof with its many windows. If I have counted correctly, there are seventeen of them. Frankly, the imposing ornamentation of this Second Empire architecture makes me ache for Paris. Or one might settle for a Francophile menu with choices written in French, as they were for customers of the hotel’s restaurant.
The Occidental’s dining room was located in an attached house, accessible from the street or from within the hotel. It is standing in the shadows behind the sun-lit power pole at the far right (of the featured photo at the top), on the southwest corner of Second Avenue and James Street. Historian Ron Edge, a frequent aid to this feature, recently found a printed copy of the 1887 Thanksgiving Day Menu for the Occidental. We’ve attached it here above. Included among its savory choices are Bellie of Salmon a la Hollandaise, Fillet de Boeuf a la Trianon, Petits Pois Francais. And for dessert the choices included Glace a la Vanilla, Tartelette Framboise and Lady fingers.
The booming of Seattle in the 1880s made both the building and enlargement of John Collins’ hotel nearly inevitable. Collins was an energetic Irishman who first arrived here in 1865. With these 1887 additions, the Occidental was rated, at least by locals, as “the largest and best equipped house north of San Francisco.” The hostelry’s
success was interrupted but not stopped, by the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. When the ruins of twisted cast iron, charred bricks, ash paneling and black walnut furniture were still smoldering, Collins started clearing the site preparing for a new hotel. He was then heard to famously enjoin, “Within a year we will have a city here that will surpass by far the town we had before the fire.”
Rushed to completion after the fire, the new Occidental filled the entire triangular block. With the prosperity of the gold rush beginning in 1897, Collins changed its name to the Seattle Hotel. And it was as the Seattle that this hotel was razed in 1961 for the parking garage that we have carpingly learned to refer to as “The Sinking Ship.” The maritime metaphor is more obvious from the garage’s other (west) end.
Anything to add, Paul? Agreed upon Jean. First Ron Edge with help from MOHAI Librarian Carolyn Marr, has melded together, directly below, a two-part panorama of Seattle from Elliott Bay in 1887 – or close to it. Central School at 6th Avenue and Madison Street stands out at the subject’s center on the horizon of what we may call First Hill’s false summit. The Hill’s highest elevation is several blocks behind the school and far to the right near James Street and Broadway. We may “remind” readers here that you and I are doing a lecture we have named “First Hill and Beyond” at Town Hall on the Friday evening of Oct. 3. We included the “beyond” in the title so that we could show some other hills as well. Perhaps your hill, dear reader. The sum of this summons is cheap – a mere $5. And everyone gets to also enjoy the unveiling of our “now and then” exhibit in the lobby. Jean, what will they see in the Town Hall exhibit?
Jean: (polishing his fingernails on the lapel of his smoking jacket) Wonders, Paul, they will see wonders! We two have spent much of the summer assembling and repeating quintessential images of First Hill, chosen with care and consideration. One major panoramic view has never before been seen in its entirety – what’s more, its “now” is a marvel as well. Come join us for an evening of fun and games, dear readers, and, of course, some historical exploration and detective work.
Click to enlarge. Click it twice.
Now following the grand panorama Ron has also put up a few links, which again feature features that hang about the neighborhood of Pioneer Square – with exceptions and, as we are wont to do, also with some repeats.
Since it is once more “nighty-bears” time, I will return with some more relevant parts in the early afternoon.
THINGS ADDED – SUNDAY AFTERNOON
Before Collins began building his landmark with the mansard roof in 1884, he bought out his partners in the original Occidental Hotel that held to the same site but not the same shape. The then still open space between James and Mill Streets (left and right, below) was often used for public meetings, sports and celebration. The best documented of these was the 1881 memorial service for President Garfield.
ANOTHER EDGE CLIPPING from 1878 (not 1887) and the MAP IT ANTICIPATES
8 LOOKS No. on OCCIDENTAL towards the OCCIDENTAL BLOCK
NORTH on FRONT from the top of the OCCIDENTAL, ca. 1884