Begun in 1923, the Olympic (now the Fairmont Olympic) was described as ‘the hotel of Seattle’s dreams.’
HERE IS ANOTHER offering from the Webster and Stevens collection, held in the library of the Museum of History & Industry.
Early in the 20th century, Webster and Stevens moved their studio into the Seattle Times Building and handled the newspaper’s editorial photography. Consequently, I had some hope that I’d be able to date this contribution by finding it printed in The Times. (As I have noted before, The Times can be searched online through the Seattle Public Library.) While enjoying the pleasures of looking, I failed to find this photograph.
Perhaps Webster and Sevens recorded it for the Community Hotel Corporation, which successfully hustled the Olympic’s 1924 construction with bonds invested by more than 3,000 citizens. This local enthusiasm reminded some genuine old-timers of the “Seattle Spirit” they had known in the late 1870s that supported Seattle’s struggles with what locals considered the neglect of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the competition with its company town, Tacoma.
Once the bonds started selling, the Italian Renaissance landmark went up with remarkable speed on acres that had been the first home for the University of Washington. The Times coverage called it “the hotel of Seattle’s dreams.”
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Construction on the 450-guest-room hotel began in earnest on April 1, 1923. The Olympic Hotel was built around the city’s cherished theater, The Metropolitan, seen here at bottom left. The theater was constructed in 1911 and closed in 1954 for the Olympic’s enlargement between its two wings. With its hurried construction, the hotel took on the elegant “dress of terra-cotta tiles” near the end of February 1924, and by Dec. 6, 1924, a dinner dance celebrated the opening of the Olympic, the city’s “grand hotel.”
I ordinarily travel with a sleeping bag and frankly know little of hotels. For an informed opinion on the now-Fairmont Olympic Hotel’s status among local hostelries, I asked Tamara Anne Wilson, a friend who is widely experienced in local hospitality. From 1997 to 2003, Tamara kept several offices of her PR firm on the hotel’s 12th floor. After naming and complimenting several other Seattle hotels, she concluded, “There will never be anything like Seattle’s Olympic Hotel again. Valet, doormen and concierge that understand discretion; perfect classic martinis; comfortable seating areas that aren’t ‘trying too hard to be hip.’ ”
Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, Tamara says that in January 1960, when her father, Lt. William Critch, was preparing to ship to Okinawa with his bride of three months, Marlene Prosser, they got the order to leave instead for a preferred station in Hawaii. The couple celebrated with dinner at Rosellini Four-10 and a night at the hotel. The appropriate months later, Tamara was born in Honolulu.
“The Olympic was conceived for the carriage trade,” she said. “I’m grateful I was conceived there.”