The Hippodrome at Fifth Avenue and University Street in downtown Seattle was built in the early 1900s as a temporary gathering place in the developing Metropolitan Tract, a city within a city and the site of the University of Washington's first campus.
The American Federation of Labor held its 33rd annual convention in Seattle in the fall of 1913. Some of the convention’s grander events, like its Nov. 11 opening ceremonies, were held in the then-nearly-new Hippodrome at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and University Street. About 3,000 attended to hear the region’s star politicians, like Seattle’s progressive (though sometimes puritanical) Mayor George Cotterill and state Gov. Earnest Lister, shout their speeches across the great new hall.
The Hippodrome’s promised construction may have been one reason that the union felt it could meet in Seattle. And yet the new hall was designed as a temporary structure. The buildup of the ambitious Metropolitan Tract, the “city within the city” on the leased land of the original University of Washington campus, would take time — and so was in need of some inexpensive fillers like the Hippodrome until grander structures could replace them. The Skinner Building (seen in the “now”) took the corner in 1925-26.
At some point during the convention, its 327 delegates poured out of the Hippodrome to pose for a panoramic camera. We have cropped the picture, but the posers extended from the southeast to the northwest corners of the intersection in an arch that centered at the entrance to the hall, seen here.
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The name “Hippodrome” was chosen by the Metropolitan Building Co. not in reference to its original meaning as an open racecourse but for its association with the Hippodrome Theatre in New York — which, when it was built in 1905, was called “the world’s largest theatre.” Houdini made a 10,000-pound elephant named Jennie disappear from its stage.
“Washington Then and Now,” by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased (for $45) through Tartu Publications, P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145.