Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The arrival of the Great White Fleet in Seattle and a big party at the New Washington Hotel

Museum of History and Industry
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 whose Moore Theater stands next to it and still packs them in today.  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 leveling what we call Belltown today 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.   However, 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. 

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 offices of the fleet when they arrived on May 23.  The Seattle Daily Times felt it necessary 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."

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, it would be a hopeless endeavor, 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.”




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



1 comment:

  1. It's good to know the history behind places we only visit because of their architectural beauty. There is so much more to buildings rather than just a beautiful structure and interior.

    ReplyDelete