The Lester building was described by Harper's Weekly in 1914 as "the largest brothel in the world."
SECONDS SHY OF 2:17 p.m. on Aug. 13, 1951, a struggling Boeing B-50 just missed slamming into the tall brick tower of Emil Sick’s Rainier Brewing and Malting Co. on Airport Way, less than a minute after it took off from Boeing Field. With its nose pointing up, but its tail falling, the 99-foot-long bomber plunged to the roadway between the brewery and the Lester Apartments on Beacon Hill, plowing into the three-story tenement and torching it with about 4,000 gallons of splashing fuel.
The six-person flight crew and five residents of the Lester died. Many more were saved by brave Rainier Brewery employees who rushed into the burning apartments to pull injured and/or panicked survivors to safety. They loaded people into ambulances — and beer trucks — that rushed those who needed it to Harborview Hospital.
At least two of the workers were saved by Rainier beer itself. Brewery teamster Ira Scribner (a former pitcher for the Seattle Rainiers) explained for himself and Harold Anderson, “We just stayed at the brewery for three minutes between trips.” They paused for an extra beer. “Otherwise the plane would have hit our truck as sure as shootin’.”
The destroyed Lester building had ignominious origins. In 1914, Harper’s Weekly pictured the building with the caption “the largest brothel in the world.” The scandal spelled the end, by recall vote, of the “open town” Mayor Hiram Gill’s first term. Known for his permissive attitude toward gambling and his tacit support of the huge brothel, Gill became the target of a recall election in February 1911, three months after women were granted the right to vote. (He was re-elected in 1914.)
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The building was later turned into apartments before it was destroyed in the 1951 crash.
Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.