The Sorrento has been through a few remodels during its 106 years, but with little injury to its charms.
THE FIRST TWO listings in The Seattle Times for Hotel Sorrento were published on Feb. 7, 1909, soon after its opening. One was for a bridge party arranged at the hotel by Miss Louise Langford “in honor of Miss Ethel Amana,” visiting from Oakland, Calif. The second noted that Mrs. H.N. Richmond and her daughter Helen have “returned from California and are at the Hotel Sorrento for the winter.”
Because none of the Sorrento’s 76 suites had kitchens, most likely the Richmonds were often taking their meals in the hotel’s Dunbar Room, a name the hotel has revived with its recent changes.
On April 5, 1908, The Times ran an architectural drawing of the Sorrento, most likely by Harlan Thomas, the hotel’s architect. In Historic Seattle’s 40th anniversary book, “Tradition and Change on Seattle’s First Hill,” Jacqueline B. Williams quotes a 1940 newsletter: “The building of The Sorrento epitomized a change in the life of the city from the pioneer era; the time when men and women lived close to the soil was over and the building of a luxurious residential hotel was one of the first steps toward ‘the New York of the West.’ ”
In architect Norman J. Johnson’s essay on Thomas, included in the University Press’ often-helpful “Shaping Seattle Architecture,” Johnson notes that the Sorrento “offered Seattle its first rooftop restaurant and brought a new sophistication in residential accommodations for locals and visitors alike.” Like his hotel, Thomas also became a local treasure and was head of the University of Washington architecture department from 1924 to 1940.
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The Sorrento has been through a few remodels during its 106 years, but with little injury to its charms. For its 1933 remodel, The Times noted, “From top to bottom the hotel has been completely gone over, the only part of it remaining the same being the distinguished exterior, which has attracted favorable comments from tourists for a number of years.”
Of the reviews I have read of the Sorrento’s recent changes, I recommend a story by The Times’ food writer, Bethany Jean Clement, published April 22. Or if you want to dig deeper, the Seattle Public Library can help you find thousands of citations covering more than a century that name the Sorrento, there for the exploring.