THIS WEEK’S “Then” photo features an amiable bunch of C. Sidney Shepard & Co. employees who might have enjoyed a bit of wordplay if given a chance. Their short-lived wholesale metal shop operated between University and Union streets on the west side of First Avenue.
Mirrored reflections in the shop windows date the image. A billboard across the street promotes Denman Thompson’s touring production of “The Old Homestead” for March 17-19, 1904. Though the hit play tempted audiences for years to come, Shepard’s shop ended its run at the Post Edwards Building in 1906.
The Post Edwards (aka the Hotel Vendome) arose in the boom one year after the 1889 Great Seattle Fire. Prolific architect William E. Boone (descendant of Daniel, of the legendary raccoon-skin cap) adopted the then-popular Romanesque Revival style. For torched Seattle, the fireproof masonry stonework offered a sense of security that wood could not.
The Hotel Vendome (“Commercial and Family Patronage specially solicited”) promoted itself as a respectable alternative to sketchier lodging on First Avenue, though itinerant psychics, mediums and spiritualists prowled its lower floors for decades. Madame Melbourne and Venus the Gypsy (who promised “satisfaction or no fee”) read the palms of Yukon-bound gold-seekers, while the Rev. Edward Earle (“world’s greatest psychic”) foretold the fortunes of soldiers headed into what then was called the Great War.
By the mid-1940s, Anne and Lucius Avery had bought Post Edwards, re-christening it the Seven Seas Hotel and Tavern. Upon her death in 1969, “Mom” Avery was feted for her fondness for seafarers and skills as a bouncer, but the increasingly gritty street had filled with strip shows, porn and pawnshops, cementing its reputation as “Flesh Avenue.”
So when the Lusty Lady, the peep show with a famously punny marquee, arrived at the Post Edwards in 1985, it seemed to suit the neighborhood. Uniquely, however, the venue was run by women, and it was there, in 1992, that young photographer Erika Langley found a gutsy and radical project.
To tell the real story of the place, manager June Cade urged her to sign on as a dancer. Shy and terrified, Langley nevertheless agreed and never looked back. Her 1997 book “The Lusty Lady” was the celebrated result.
After publication, Langley continued dancing until 2004. “I learned so much about humans and sexuality and judgment,” she said. “And in this unlikely place, I had found my tribe.”
Since the 2010 closure of the Lusty Lady, the Post Edwards has drooped with inactivity. As the marquee might say, the building needs more than a sheet to test its metal.