Monday, March 11, 2013

A prophecy, a great building and one hell of a parade!

Alden J.  Blethen
Wiki Commons

In 1903, the publisher of the Seattle Daily Times, Alden J. Blethen, was looking out the window of his new office at 2nd and Union and clearly knew, for the first time in many years, that things were finally going to be alright. 

His outlook had improved nearly every year since he bought an ailing Seattle paper in 1896 and settled into its hole-in-the-wall office just off Second Avenue on Yesler Street.  In 1896 he was 50, more than broke, a victim of the 1893 recession where he lost his bank, where fire destroyed his newspaper, The Minneapolis Tribune, and when he started another paper, The Penny Press, it led him to bankruptcy.  Also, Minneapolis had twice rejected him as a candidate for mayor.  He must have said something like "I get it!" and headed for Denver.  When things didn’t work out there, he left for Seattle, the creditors and lawyers close behind. 

Though we're 120 years from it, we would understand the 1893 recession.  The United States was enmeshed in a global economy that was melting down.  As the recession spread throughout Europe, investors sold their US stocks in railroads and other infrastructure here and stock prices dropped like a stone.  Gold and silver, the only trustworthy currencies at the time, fled the country, making loans harder to obtain.  The investment structure was poorly regulated and there were many who manipulated it for short term gain at the expense of real investors.  It was a global mess.

A loan from his brother-in-law’s mortgaged home was the last stake Blethen had.  It was his last chance and he got it right.  As the circulation of the paper improved, he moved further north on Second Avenue, out of the Yesler hole-in-the-wall and into the respectable Boston Block on Columbia Street and then an entire building at the corner of Second and Union.  The paper Blethen purchased in 1896 had a circulation of maybe 4,000.  In 1915, he sold 70,000 papers everyday and lived in a Queen Anne mansion. 

Looking North on Second Avenue about 1908.
Daily Times building at front right, Bon Marche down the
street middle left, today's Josephinum near the center.
UW Collections
Moving northward in his adopted city was always a good thing, always a signal of growth, prosperity and stability.  And in the October 11, 1903 Sunday edition of his newspaper, he imagined what further movement to the north would bring to his city and what Seattle would look like in 1919.  He called it a “truthful description of the city in 1919” given through the voices of travelers from Tacoma who discover many futuristic products and fanciful outcomes.  He also called it a prophecy and printed a drawing of what he saw.  The view begins, natch, at the Seattle Daily Times Building on Second and Union, looking north.  It shows electric trolleys, horse drawn carts and automobiles competing for space on the busy street.  The picture shows Second Avenue as the very center of commerce, surrounded by very tall buildings.  An airplane is flying by at the top center of the drawing. 

Blethen was able to describe this release of commercial energy because property owners and the city were about ready to start using gold mining techniques to sluice the 100 foot high Denny Hill into Elliott Bay and to fill in the low tidal lands that were a dominant feature of the city’s southern shore.  Denny Hill, in conventional Sesattle wisdom at the time, was the cork in the bottle of progress.

Blethen returned to the prophecy in 1907 and said that the 1919 vision had been realized in just four years, a terrific Christmas present for his readers, he said.  In four years, the Seattle’s population had doubled to over 200,000 people.  While part of the growth came from a burst of annexations, much of the growth was attributable to the 5,000 people a month Blethen said were pouring into the city.

He published another drawing in that December 22, 1907 issue, made from a photograph taken from the same point of view as the earlier prophecy.  There are no horses in this photo and the tall buildings lining the street are real.  People are crowding the sidewalks.  Kitty corner, across the street from the Daily Times Building, is the Bon Marche, crowded with shoppers.  Further north is the nine story Signal Furniture Building and, across the street, where Second Avenue turns slightly to the north and west, is the shell of the 14 story New Washington Hotel, sitting 100 feet below and a bit south of where the Washington Hotel used to sit before the ground got pulled out from under it.  The trolleys run another ten blocks or so, all the way to Denny Avenue.  Just to the east, Westlake Avenue, liberated from its original geology, flows gently downhill to Lake Union.

Denny/Washington Hotel
About Second and Virginia 
The Washington Hotel began rising from its top of the hill location in 1890 and was originally known as the Denny Hotel, after one of the Seattle founders, Arthur Denny.  Squabbling among the partners kept the hotel closed for its first three years and the Panic of 1893 did the rest, closing it for another decade.  Finally, it was sold to James A.  Moore, about the same time as Blethen published his first vision.  Moore’s first guest, Teddy Roosevelt, gave the hotel all the cache it needed to be successful and it was a success for the three summers of life ahead of it, before the hoses washed its footings away.  

Moore sold the land at the corner of Second and Stewart to two powerhouse developers who were just finishing the Alaska Building, the first true Seattle skyscraper.  J. E. Chilberg and J. Crawford Marmaduke paid $200,000 for the land and had in mind a turnkey hotel project, something that could be built but not fully furnished and sold to a competent hotelier who'd finish the job.

As they closed in on the groundbreaking date, the architects, the esteemed Eames and Young from Chicago, said that another $200,000 had been added to the original $600,000 cost of the structure “because the great growth and the magnificent prospects of the city merit it,” said Mr. Eames.  There were to be 350 rooms in the hotel and, the Seattle Daily Times noted, “every room will have a private bath.”  The doors to the closets were to be constructed so that “when opened, the closet will be flooded with electricity.” 

The Alaska Building underway
August 22, 1904
UW Collections
The construction of these new, taller buildings should be understood in the context of the San Francisco Earthquake that occurred in April, 1906.  Clearly, the great city was damaged goods and the events in the Bay Area gave Seattle a strategic advantage that would ensure something more than backwater status.  Also, Chilberg and Marmaduke had just finished the Alaska Building and wanted it to be seen as safe.  Its all steel construction helped that point along as did the choice of Eames and Young from Chicago.  Also helping was the fact that people then knew absolutely nothing about how earthquake prone their region was.

The hotel was on a schedule that would have it comfortably ready for the great world’s fair, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition that Seattle planned first for 1908 and then delayed for a year to June of 1909.  St.  Louis and Portland had just completed expos celebrating the start and the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Now it was Seattle’s time with a fresh topic, the gold rush plus the emergence of an American Century in the Pacific.   Blethen assigned plenty of coverage to the new hotel especially coverage that played to the rivalry of Seattle and San Francisco.  Soon, the inevitable delays came  Materials didn't arrive on time and, also, the realization that the basic business scheme devised by Chilberg and Marmaduke needed to be revisited.  The destruction of San Francisco sent a strong economic shock, that reverberated across the entire western economy.  Then, manipulators tried to corner the copper market which led to a collapse of copper stocks and a slowing of mining that hit the national economy in 1907. The slowing economy made the idea of finding a turnkey buyer unlikely, so Chilberg and Marmaduke turned to a public stock offering to raise the $250,000 necessary to furnish the project and install the interior spaces that would complete the hotel.  The coverage at the time seemed sober and straight forward, a small wrinkle in the plan, but clearly the back story demonstrated a significant fear that Seattle could be left with another empty hotel, just like the one Arthur Denny tried to build. 

The Great White Fleet on its way.  Seven of the ships
would go into drydock in Bremerton.
Navy Times
Events also crowded in.  A great fleet was moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and would visit Seattle in the Spring of 1908.  The purpose was to demonstrate President Roosevelt’s famous saying, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."  The Great White Fleet was the big stick part and sent a clear signal to Japan that the Pacific was an American lake as well.  When it became clear that sometime in May, 1908 the big ships would visit, there was a possibility that the city’s new showcase hotel might not be ready. It had the potential for a world class embarrassment to a city with world class presumptions. 

Chilberg and company were cutting it very close.  They announced on April 19, that the New Washington would be the site of the great reception for the officers of the fleet when they arrived on May 23.  The Times felt the necessity to underscore the community’s expectations by saying that “the reception will take place in the big hostelry which will be finished by that date.

Lobby, New Washington in 1908
Eames and Young Collection
One step ahead of the sheriff, with workers racing to complete so many details, the officers’ reception began with the admirals being led to the ornate mezzanine so they could take in the lovely lobby. They then left the mezzanine and proceeded down stairs to the dining room/ballroom where the officers formed a reception line. They would greet 3,000 people inside the hotel while an estimated 30,000 milled around outside, where music was available and the police department scanned the crowd for pickpockets.  They got some, like E. Larson, known as the “Frisco Kid” who had $125 on his person.  Ike Borenstein had filched $193 and, over at the post office, Joe Medford, who tried to outrun the cops, knocking over a group of ladies and a stroller.  He had $130 on him. Big money in those days.

New Washington and Moore Theater across from
grandstand on Second Avenue.
Note people standing on utility poles.
UW Collections
Then, three days later, the greatest parade ever in Seattle marched down First and up Second Avenue.  The Seattle Daily Times, using a tortured analysis, had the attendees at half a million.  Let’s not argue with Alden Blethen, let’s just say there were a lot of people.  They went South down First Avenue to Jackson Street, then back up the gentle slope on Second Avenue where they went by the official bandstand located across the street from the New Washington and the Moore Theater. 

Organizers had roped off the sidewalks from the parade route, using 33,000 feet of half inch rope. 

Original Poster
The military part of the parade was all starched uniforms and crisp, shouted orders, but the civilian part was down home.  The City of Aberdeen brought 16 black bear cubs who were to be escorted along the route by the 16 fattest men in Aberdeen.  A view of the parade route by the bear escorts led to a change in plans due to the rigor of the march and the long climb north on Second Avenue.  Younger, thinner men escorted the Teddy Bears along the streets.  After the parade, each of the 16 battleships received a bear cub as a mascot.

The hotel that Chilberg and Marmaduke made spanned the two World’s Fairs in Seattle, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition – the youthful Chilberg was its president -- opened June 1, 1909 and Century 21, April 21, 1962.  Performers in both events stayed at the Washington.  Most notable, of course, was Elvis Presley, here to film “Take Me To The Fair,” later released as “It Happened at the World’s Fair.”

Pretty cool for a crop duster
Metro Goldwyn Mayer
If you haven’t watched this movie recently, here’s the basic plot line.  Mike (Elvis) and Danny fly a crop duster in the Wenatchee apple orchards, but Danny gambles and a Chelan County Sheriff seizes the plane when he lost the money gambling and couldn't make the payments.  So, the two hitchhike to Seattle to prosper at the World’s Fair.  A young Asian girl is in the car that gives them a ride to Seattle and Mike takes care of her because her father somehow disappears.  Danny tries to earn money playing poker and Elvis courts a young nurse, Diane.  I don’t want to give anything away, but basically, it all works out.

The Washington Hotel was the leading hotel in Seattle until the construction of the Olympic in the early 1920s, but it still remained a very fine property.

The Totem Bar in the New Washington
Eames and Young Collection
In 1917, J. Crawford Marmaduke, who had assembled much of the money to build the New Washington, built a six room penthouse on the hotel in 1917 for his Mom and he to live.  The Schmidt brothers, brewers of Olympia Beer, acquired the hotel in 1930 as part of their strategy to diversify after prohibition shut down their brewery.  When the Schmidts went back to making beer after repeal, they sold their share to two other local companies who formed Western Hotels, a predecessor of today’s Westin chain.  Western sold the hotel in 1955 and it became the Doric Washington Hotel. 

The Catholic Archdiocese purchased the Washington from Doric in 1963 and turned it into senior housing run by the Sisters of St. Joseph who changed the name to the Josephinum.  I got to know the building during this part of its life.  My mother lived there in 1982 and 1983 until she moved, in her last few weeks, into a nursing home.  She liked the place for a number of reasons, but I know that one of them was that it was just up the street from the Mayflower Park Hotel and its lovely bar and even lovelier martinis.  The Firelight, (now the Nitelite) was just steps away from the Josephinum front door, but it was no place for Mom.  It was a pasties and boom-chica-boom property owned by mobster Frank Colacurcio and was the place where topless dancing started in Seattle  back in 1958.  It was also the location of many felonies and briberies hatched and carried out during the Seattle police scandals of the 1960s, only a handful of which were brought to justice.

My nephew Jordan loved going to see his grandmother at the Josephinum.  He remembers that he loved the food.  He never got Jell-O at home.

Walking through the lobby with my mother, it still looked great despite its years of wear and tear and I thought its history and Italianate design added a bit to Mom’s step as we walked out onto Second Avenue, turned left, away from the Firelite and toward the Mayflower, where we ordered Mom’s weekly see-through.

After 1963, the building took on many different personalities, first as the retirement home, then as low income housing.  In 1992, it was home to the remarkable organization Fare Start, which trains people who are recovering from a variety of demons to work in the food service industry.  Eighty percent of its graduates find full time work in the industry with more than 150 graduates a year.  It has grown into a fine restaurant open to the public.  In 2007 it left the Josephinum for a new home on Virginia Street, a place we frequent because the food is good.  

The same year Fare Start moved in, Catholic Charities and Catholic Housing Services took over management of the Josephinum and steered the programming further toward a low income mission.  Catholic Charities and Catholic Housing Services are the largest private charity in the state, spending some $130 million a year on a collection of housing and support services.  It became the location for the downtown Women’s Wellness Center, where homeless women can find a place to relax, wash their clothing, have a good meal and see professionals who might help them break their cycle.

In 2009, it became a new parish, Christ Our Hope, and began a serious remodeling, first of the downstairs part and now other parts of the building.  It is a lovely job, balanced between its mission of supporting low income people and its obligation of protecting the treasures of a great building that reflects to our time the great events of another.  

We don’t know if Antonio Magnano was actually among the crowd milling around the hotel the night of its first reception or whether he lined up along First or Second to watch the parade or climbed up one of a light poles to get a better view, but I like to think he was there.  We know very likely what he was thinking about at the time – Mary Cooper, daughter of English immigrants whom he had met on a business trip. The day of the great parade was just three weeks from his marriage to Mary in Salt Lake City.   

Magnano had come to the US as a 24 year old young man from Pra, a small port town just west of Genoa.  His father had died and his mother, brothers and sisters needed him to work and be a success.  He was a stocky, good looking guy, serious and ultimately, highly successful.  He imported products from Italy such as olive oil, fancy olives, artichokes.  The huge Italian migration was underway and Antonio would serve it well from his businesses along First, Post Street and Western Avenue, the centers of the food world then until the center moved a bit north, to the Pike Place Market. 

603 32nd
He and Mary started out in a small house in the Madrona area of Seattle, 603 32nd, and moved to a bigger house along the same street as the babies came.  His success and the success of his children, who all entered the business and grew it, got him and Mary to a house on Queen Anne where he counted lawyers, doctors and politicians as his neighbors.  

He and his sons created a great local brand, Napoleon, that today brings over 150 different foods to us, some Italian brands, but also brands from across the Pacific.  From where I am sitting right now, a bottle of their olive oil sits next to the chicken breasts I will soon marinate with garlic and crushed roasted lemon.  Food mostly leads to a feeling a kinship and the food that I will make soon leads me to a kinship with Antonio at this moment. 

Father Magnano
Christ Our Hope
The reason I want to place Antonio at the New Washington for the reception or the parade is that his grandson, Father Paul Magnano, is the parish priest of Christ Our Hope Parish.  Over the years Antonio had to be in the New Washington -- for lunch perhaps, where one of his suppliers stayed on a Seattle swing, perhaps where he and Mary stopped by for wine and dinner on June 9, their anniversary.

I don't think that Alden Blethen would be too pleased with his Second and Union address today.  His vision of Second Avenue heading north doesn't have the strong street level commercial activity he once enjoyed observing in 1907 at the Bon Marche and other shops along the way to the north.  All that commercial activity moved to the west and First Avenue or to the east on Third Avenue leaving a good piece of Second Avenue supporting the other two streets with parking.  

Second and Union Today
His office is now a parking structure as is the structure across the street.  Next door to the north is a parking lot and further north is another parking structure.  Blethen loved the automobile but would be having second thoughts today about its impact on Second Avenue.  

What is a constant in the Blethen view is our friend the Josephinum, jutting out into the center of the view where a great hill once stood with a hotel nobody wanted on top of it.

The Depression of 1893

The Great White Fleet and its Purposes

Very intelligent discussion of the 2001 earthquake in Seattle

The Elvis History Blog -- in Seattle

About Christ Our Hope Church

Napoleon Company Profile


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