MOST OF the surviving photographs of the short-lived Occidental Hotel record it from the front, where its narrow western facade looked back across the busy Pioneer Place, or Square. This view from the rear looks northwest across the intersection of Second Avenue and Mill Street (Yesler Way) in 1887, while the nearly final touches on the hotel’s new addition are being applied.
The original 1884 structure is to the left of scaffolding, rising here beside Mill Street. Portland architect Donald MacKay shaped the building to fit this rare, for Seattle, flatiron-shaped block. At the top is architect Otto Kleemer’s well-wrought roof with its many windows. The imposing ornamentation of this Second Empire architecture makes me ache for Paris, but I might settle for a menu with choices written in French, as they were for customers of the hotel’s restaurant.
The Occidental’s dining room was in an attached house, accessible from the street or from within the hotel. It is standing in the shadows behind the power pole at the far right, on the corner of Second Avenue and James Street. Historian Ron Edge recently found a copy of the 1887 Thanksgiving Day menu for the Occidental. Included among its savory choices are Bellie of Salmon a la Hollandaise and Fillet de Boeuf a la Trianon.
The booming of Seattle in the 1880s made the enlargement of John Collins’ hotel nearly inevitable. Collins was an energetic Irishman who arrived here in 1865. With the 1887 additions, the Occidental was rated, at least by locals, as “the largest and best equipped house north of San Francisco.” The hostelry’s success was interrupted by the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. When the ruins were still smoldering, Collins started clearing the site for a new hotel. He was then heard to famously enjoin, “Within a year we will have a city here that will surpass by far the town we had before the fire.”
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The new Occidental filled the entire triangular block. With the prosperity of the Gold Rush beginning in 1897, Collins changed its name to the Seattle Hotel. And it was as the Seattle that it was razed in 1961 for the odd-shaped parking garage that we have christened “the Sinking Ship.”
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