The Savoyad: a story of stories

“Twelve Stories of Solid Comfort”
Savoy Hotel, Seattle, 2d ave., near Seneca St.; 12 stories, fire proof, concrete, steel and marble, In the most fashionable shopping district. Special large sample rooms for display, English grill; 210 rooms, 135 baths; barber shop; library. Most refined modern hostelry in Seattle. Busses meet all trains and boats. RATES $1.oo UP

— Advertisement in March 10, 1908 Victoria Daily Colonist

When I was younger one of the few stops I made regularly in the local Sunday Seattle Times newspaper was Paul Dorpat’s “Seattle Now and Then” photos. In this weekly feature of the Pacific Magazine supplement, the Earl of the Emerald City’s visual past would provide two photos of some Seattle prospect, one an historic photo and another that he would take “now” so you could orient yourself and appreciate how things in that view had changed over the decades. I was always fascinated by the effects of time on my home city.  

The Brooklyn at lower left on the corner of Second and University, Third Avenue's Plymouth Congregational in the left-side background, and a mystery building dead center, supposedly around 1905. This image belongs to the University of Washington collection and is used without permission.

While looking for an old photo to support my recent post about the Brooklyn Hotel and WaMu Tower, I encountered a photo dated 1905 showing the Brooklyn and its neighbors at the time. The building next to it seemed to have only seven or eight floors, which sent alarms through my mind. I happened to know that the only other commercial building to occupy that spot before the WaMu Tower took over the block in 1984 was the Savoy Hotel, which was famous (around here, at least) for its advertising slogan: “Twelve Stories of Solid Comfort”. So how could there be a seven- or eight-story building there?

A moment of scratching around on the Internet ensued, whereupon I realized that the Savoy was built in 1906, so this building was there BEFORE the Savoy. An eight-story building. With the same window pattern. And the same footprint with regard to wings and courts. On the same spot. Hmmmm. I got to thinking: at a time when there were plenty of empty lots around or real estate with old rickety houses that needed to be razed in the name of progress, why would someone knock down an eight-story building just to put up a twelve-story one that was almost identical? It didn’t make sense.

This vintage postcard was sold on CardCow.com. Note the slogan beneath the image and the red-ink one across the top. What does it suggest to you? Image copyright CardCow.com.

The date of 1905 I was able to dismiss. Photos in the University’s collection (and others’) are often incorrectly labeled, often as a result of careless cataloguing that occured decades after the photos were taken, but just as often at the hands of the photographers themselves, who came to Seattle from other parts of the country and took lots of photographs without knowing which street corner they were standing on. I myself have caught and sent in corrections for a number of errors, such as in this entry on King County Snapshots, where the famed Webster and Stevens — or someone later cataloguing their work — noted the shot as being taken from Seneca, when in fact anyone who takes the time to go and look at these buildings — all the near ones are still standing — could tell you it is taken from Spring. (The error is forever preserved in the “Handwritten on sleeve” note, though all the corrected “Caption” info was supplied by yours truly.)

So I could imagine that this photo was really the Savoy, built in 1906, but then what to do with the too-few floors? I wondered, naturally, if the hotel had originally been built with eight and then added four later? I knew of other buildings — the Telephone Building and the County Courthouse (both on Third) to name two — which had been added to, so it seemed like a distinct possibility. Still, I’d seen slogans on vintage postcards that implied that the Savoy had always had twelve stories, or at least it was easy to interpret them that way.

I emailed the alleged 1905 photo to Paul Dorpat, who first helped me out with my post about the reemergence of the old Standard Furniture Co. legend (one of the many, actually), and asked if he knew anything about this. Like Commissioner Gordon hoisting the bat-shaped beacon into the sky above Gotham City, I raised the photohistorian’s distress flag.

One of several buildings I know of that grew over the years. The Telephone Bldg circa 1921 at its original stature.

Pardon our dust. The only photo I know of showing construction (1926) of the Telephone Building's additional floors.

Circa 1928. Notice the slightly lighter bricks in the upper courses and the redesigned top windows. Photo property of Museum of History and Industry.

Paul had never heard of an eight-story Savoy, but was game for the adventure, and before I knew it he was emailing me every few hours with old images from his extensive collection, images that showed the twelve-story Savoy from a number of angles and in various kinds of light and at different times. It appeared, Paul thought, that the bricks were lighter above the eighth floor, which would suggest an addition at some point. He said he would keep searching in hopes of finding evidence that the old inn once topped out at eight stories.

Throughout that day and the next, photos poured in. I have never met Paul nor seen his stash, but I imagined him in a happy frenzy of a chase, riffling and rifling through old magazines and boxes full of postcards and dead people’s bequeathed photo albums, and searching his hard-drive for images he’s scanned on earlier occasions. He seemed determined to find proof that the Savoy had originally been an eight-story building, and he would not rest until he did so.

King County Courthouse in 1916. Evidently not imposing enough.

Circa 1930. The courthouse reaches is present height.

I must here pause to disclose that I’m only telling you this story because it strokes my ego no end to have been involved in the sleuthing out of a historical mystery with (None Other Than) Paul Dorpat. I would like to make much of the fact that I’m tight with the League of Extraordinary Photohistorians’ de facto leader, but the truth is that Paul is the most accessible and amicable person you could ever hope to encounter online, and he’s always game for a good romp through history. He is also unselfish: he suggested I write about this on my blog using the photos “we” found in his collection. I counter-suggested that I had really done nothing but raise the question — that in fact he had done all the legwork, and that this kind of article was really his sovereign territory and that I wouldn’t presume…and he double-dog-counter-counter-suggested that I get busy, and to let him know if I needed any of the photos in higher resolution.

He was zeroing in on it, I could tell. One email he sent included a photo that he had photocopied, then marked up with a red pen, and then scanned. It showed a certain arrangement of windows on the shorter building that we’d seen in a later photo of the twelve-story Savoy. Paul’s eye for detail is amazing. There was also a strange piece of brickwork at the level of the eighth floor where the original (lower) cornice would have been if the roof had really been raised. I verified that there was a similar anomaly on the other side of the front of the building from a photo that I happened to have found myself (okay, so I really did help).

In this 1906 view looking north on Second Avenue, Paul has indicated not only the cornice and a giveaway window arrangement on the "lower" Savoy (center), but also the Burke Bldg at left, the short-lived Washington Hotel (in mid-tear-down) up on the hill that is no more, and Plymouth Congregational Church on Third (right). Click for larger.

We both became convinced, from the forensic evidence alone, that the Savoy had originally had only eight floors but that history had forgotten that fact.

History never was very kind to the Savoy, it turns out. Paul says that the hotel was unusual in that it was “so little covered, caught between the upbuilding around Pine and that at Madison and south of Madison.” He also notes that “the Savoy…was neglected throughout its life, it seems to me.  It was just a bit smaller than other structures put up then, held no corner, and was rather skinny.” It became a seedy dive even before midcentury. The beautiful decorative capitals on the interior pillars were hidden behind a false ceiling for decades (see the Brooklyn/WaMu post for a photo). Still, at one time its owners thought its future seemed bright enough to warrant enlarging it by a third.

I was willing to call it good. I didn’t think we’d get any closer than that, but here I underestimated Mr. Dorpat’s tenacity, or his ability to defer the benefit of sleep, or his vast collection of photos, or all of the above.

On the morning of the third day (is that ominous or what?) I found another email from Paul:

Matt
Look what I found, a copy neg from an advert in Prosperous Washington published by the Post-Intelligencer in 1906!
Paul

Attached was the following photo.

Payday! This advert names the Savoy and clearly depicts the eight-story building. Photo thanks to Paul Dorpat. Click for larger.

There you had it. Eight floors. Not long afterward, I found this on CardCow.com, though strangely it doesn’t show up on obvious Google image searches.

Here again, the shorter manifestation of the building is named as the Savoy. Image copyright CardCow.com. Click for larger.

But it gets better. Last week, Paul finally found and forwarded the following shots of the business actually occurring.

Caught red-handed. The Savoy adds some rooms with a better view. Photo thanks to Paul Dorpat. Click for larger.

Scaffolding atop the Savoy, and some early Seattlites, April 20, 1907. Note the steeple of Plymouth Congregational poking up in the "skyline" right of center. Photo thanks to Paul Dorpat. Click for larger.

At last, we’d caught this history mystery in flagrante delicto! I felt like half of the Hardy Boys, and I wanted to go buzz the town in Chet’s jalopy.

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24 Responses to “The Savoyad: a story of stories”


  1. 1 Marni July 23, 2010 at 12:01

    FABULOUS! I feel like you both need a golden magnifying glass to symbolize the victory of this quest. I have this vision of Mr. Dorpat sitting on the floor in some small room, boxes and bins all around and quite piled up, with a spread of photos on the floor and a big dreamy smile on his face! What a treat for both of you, and how satisfying.
    Speaking of Hardy Boys, we had a gentleman customer come in a week or so ago and drop off a quite large box containing all of his old Hardy Boys (the story I was told was that they were all from his collection when he was a child, but since the box contained so many different editions/printings/bindings it felt like it was maybe his, his father’s, and maybe his kids or grandkids collections all together); Cindy was in 7th heaven sorting through them all and deciding which stack each one deserved to be in- it was like sorting a bin of buttons or screws, but “funner”! I guess we’re going to display them around the store as decoration…something for you to look for the next time you mosey in.

    • 2 jstwndrng July 23, 2010 at 13:18

      A golden magnifying glass — I like that idea a lot. To be handed down for generations…a sacred trust given only upon a pledge not to forget.

      I think you ought to put a clue in each of the books and hide them around the store in among other books. Like one in biographies, one in cooking, etc. The tell-tale yellow spine would be fairly easy to spot but would require looking. And each clue would not be “ordinal” but just one of the many, and when you had them all you could solve whatever phrase or sentence or riddle that would lead you to some final location in the store, say a less visible book — a used one that wouldn’t mind being pawed at by dozens of young sleuths — and in that book would be some congratulatory wheeze followed by instructions to go collect a prize from Lori in the back, some stickers or a Tootsie Roll (R) or a wee keyring flashlight with Island Books insignia on it. Just an idea. You could call it “Calling all Mercer Sleuths” (a play on “Mercer Slough” that no one would get, and on second thought doesn’t really play well, so never mind).

      • 3 Marni July 23, 2010 at 13:23

        Okay, so clearly you moonlight as a marketing and promotions guy in retail! I might forward on your suggestion- would make for some interesting times. The spines are actually blue (Nancy Drew was yellow), and the old ones are tan (missing dust jackets unfortunately, or they would probably have some value on the used market), and have some wonderful black and white ink drawings. It was a real treat to paw through them!

  2. 4 jstwndrng July 23, 2010 at 14:00

    Did you use your own paw or did you enlist Darby’s? (“Ruff!” to that golden girl.)

    I should like to think I do moonlight, but I don’t know what it would be that I moonlight “at” or “as”. But it’s too beautiful a verb to not do it. “Yes, I moonlight.” Maybe I moonlight as a responsible adult, but then that leaves the bigger question…

    • 5 Marni July 23, 2010 at 16:09

      I know- I love that word. It’s such a lovely visual for something usually rather mundane!

      Whenever “pawsible” (and thank you for giving me such an easy pun) I enlist Darby’s paw! She sends you a very soft “woof” and an enthusiastic wiggle to Angela, Mara, and “miniMara” Emilia; in fact, she sends big sloppy dog kisses designed to clean small children. Seriously, I should rent her out to families with kids- they’d be spotless and oh-so-unsticky in minutes.

  3. 6 Ben July 24, 2010 at 15:28

    Right then, we’re off sujbect….(I meant subject but Gracie or “Fat Cat” has just shook her head and all her affectionate slobber has been flung in my face and acros the laptop screen.)

    This post is great fun brother. Your sluething causes my mouth to water (not like Gracie’s mind you) and I have a keen desire to savor the old halls of the Savoy! I love old, old photos. I recently stumbled upon photo’s of firefighting in New York, taken by a bloke named Weegee. His photos’ were famous apparently. I have been as fascinated looking at them and studying all the old equipment visible as Mr. Dorpat must be with his ancient feats of engineering. Good stuff, brother!

    • 7 jstwndrng July 24, 2010 at 22:45

      Hi Ben,
      I could happily spend my entire life looking at old photos of Seattle and of New York. Two of my favorite collections of streets and buildings, though different in so many ways. I remember a few years back when I discovered the photo of the “shorter” version of the Telephone Building and started looking for the visual proof of its “raising”. That was the puzzle that first got me familiar with so many of the old Seattle photos and collections. Yep, it’s great fun, isn’t it?

  4. 8 David Lunde January 2, 2011 at 08:50

    Ahh… the Savoy Hotel brings back memories of my youth. My dad worked next door to the hotel in the 1950’s at Oregon City Woolen Mills which was a clothing store. Upon one of my visits to the store, dad took me over to the Hotel where I enjoyed my first elevator ride to the top floor. I must have been 4 or 5 years old and can remember being a little scared of the elevator ride.

    • 9 jstwndrng January 2, 2011 at 09:49

      David,

      Thanks for the comment. I love it when folks add to the picture for me. My own father worked across University Street from the Brooklyn and Savoy in the ’60s, in a building where the Benaroya is now. Was that elevator a cage lift that you could see out of? or was it one of the closed type?

  5. 10 Invisible Mikey January 2, 2011 at 19:30

    Your sense of fun in historical sleuthing made this post really enjoyable to read, and the photos added a lot of value.

    Happy New Year!

    • 11 jstwndrng January 2, 2011 at 22:09

      Thanks Mikey. I’m committed to breaking up my hideously long essays with photos of interest. Good to hear from you…it’s been a while since I’ve (not) seen your face around here. Hope the new year has you and Mrs. Invisible snuggled in and faring well.

      [For brave and insightful reflections on the human condition from a man who cares for the incapacitated, click on Mikey’s name above.]

  6. 12 wendy mauermann kennedy January 6, 2011 at 16:29

    Dear Mr. Dorpat-I really have aprreciated your then and now column for so very long. I am especially interested in seattle as i have lived here my entire live almost, and my family has a long history with the city. My grandfather was Glenn Hughes who started the drama dept. at the u. of w. in the 20’s and of course the penthouse theatre etc. My fathers family pioneered the pe ell washington area, actually omar mauermann before statehood, my mothers’grandfather louis plechner made his fortune and had bebb and gould build his home on captial hill. I love history. I am doing some more family research and was hoping that you could plse. let me know the easiest way to obtain birth certificates. I have a few names, birth years and states, but not cities. please help most sincerely, wendy mauermann. I enjoyed reading your info. on your life and career.

  7. 14 Jackie Ross August 1, 2012 at 22:06

    Just wondering, I enjoyed your blog on the Savoy. I saw a picture of it in an antique shop just today with Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s motorcade parked in front. Evidently he stayed there back then. I was drawn to the picture because I happen to have a silver dish for holding a flower arrangement that came from the Hotel Savoy. It has the hotel’s name stamped on the bottom. I wonder how many items are left from the hotel. Thanks for the history/mystery tale.

    • 15 Matt August 2, 2012 at 07:41

      Hi Jackie,
      Thanks for commenting. That’s a(n) historic vase you have! Did you inherit it or did you find it at some flea market? I bet you could find more items from the Savoy on eBay if you kept your eye out. I know the manager at the Camlin and he has acquired a nice collection of relics from that hotel’s past just by trawling through eBay over the years.

  8. 16 Kimberly Johnson January 24, 2013 at 07:44

    Hello Matt. I see that you have made a comment to an unidentified building above. I can identify this for you! I finally did it myself the last few days. It is my Great Grandfather’s Vaudeville Theater “The Shannon” Theater. He owned much of this block of 2nd Avenue from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s. He had 1218 through 1222 Second Avenue. He owned and operated several businesses there. A Grocery Store (We know one name to be Shannon’s Boston Grocery~he was born in Boston in 1865), Produce, Theaters, and a Hotel (that I am still researching).

    I would love to connect with you if you are interested. I have a photo of him as well. It has taken me a very long time to find a photo of his theater and you can only imagine how thrilled I was to finally be able to do this. So absolutely exciting!!! Now if I can only convince UW and MOHAI to update their files and on-line photos to reflect this information.

    I am going to make an attempt to contact Mr. Paul Dorpat as well and seek his assistance in doing so. As he too has had these photos and history on his website.

    My Great Grandfather also owned/operated the Star Theater, Central, and Manhattan.

    My mother (a Shannon) was born in Seattle and is still residing locally. She is a plethora of information on Seattle and it’s buildings, etc.

    My Great Grandparents Richard T Shannon and Sarah Jane Neal Shannon along with my Grandparents Robert and Veda (Moore) Shannon as well as several other Shannon’s are all buried in the same area at Evergreen Washelli. My Grandma Veda (Moore) Shannon’s father was one of the main Contractors on the Union Station. He was a Masonry Contractor.

    Okay, I will let you go for now. I certainly hope you respond and are interested in corresponding and possibly collaborating with me.

    Thanks kindly. And Thank you for your website. My mother (Patricia) wishes to extend her gratitude as well.

    Sincerely,
    Kimberly Johnson

    • 17 Matt January 24, 2013 at 09:56

      Hi Kimberly,
      Thanks for the interest and for commenting. I wasn’t able to figure out which building you’re referring to above in my post. There’s a theater to the south of the Savoy in one of the images that might correspond roughly to the addresses 1218-1222, but how could that be the Shannon when it clearly says Pantages Vaudeville Theater? Please clarify when you get a chance. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear more and I’m happy to help in whatever way I can, though it sounds like you probably know as much about this area of town as I do. Paul Dorpat is very accessible, too. You can contact him at his website http://pauldorpat.com/.

      I’ve had some success getting corrections made to the information about historical photos online in the UW and MOHAI collections, but it takes a long time for them to get around to fixing the errors.

      Please send my regards to your mother, too. It would be fun to chat with you and your mother sometime about your great grandfather and Seattle buildings and what you’ve discovered. And in any case, keep me updated about what you discover. I’ll send you an email. Thanks again for participating here!

  9. 18 Kimberly Johnson February 26, 2013 at 08:20

    Hi Matt, sorry it has taken me so long to reply. If you look between the Savoy and the Brooklyn…it says Shannon on it (Look at the postcard of the Savoy). So it’s just north of the Savoy. I think there is another photo on UW or Paul’s site that is a bit more clear. I will have to find it again and copy the link here.

    This really is/was such an incredible find! Fascinating for sure! We are so proud of our heritage.

    Would love to chat sometime. Mom and I visit the SPL often to research. Would love to meet up there some Saturday if you are interested. I looked for you on facebook…are you not on there?

    Thanks for the wonderful work. It’s just incredible.

    Kimberly

  10. 19 Kimberly Johnson February 26, 2013 at 08:34

    Hi again Matt. This photo is a bit more clear. I hope it comes through on this post okay.

    Kind Regards,

    Kimberly

  11. 21 Jana September 11, 2017 at 19:38

    Hi Matt! Just commenting that I am reading this article in 2017 to learn more about Hotel Savoy . . . Thank you for sharing your research!

    • 22 Matt September 12, 2017 at 09:46

      Hi Jana,
      It’s been a long time. Glad to see you’re still hard on history’s trail. I’ve let this blog languish and have been more involved in my family history blog for the past few years (inspired by your own family history posts, actually). I also have not kept up with Paul Dorpat at all. I kind of just fell off. I don’t know that you’ll learn much about the Savoy from this post…it’s mainly a recounting of the search for just one aspect of it. Are you doing some project related to the Savoy? I trust you already know about the castings made from the original pillar capitals inside the Savoy, which are now mounted in the wall of the WAMU Tower at street level on University going down the hill. They are beautiful. Great to hear from you.


  1. 1 Who’s on Second? « Just Wondering Trackback on January 1, 2011 at 20:39
  2. 2 Seattle Now & Then: The Savoy Hotel « DorpatSherrardLomont Trackback on January 1, 2011 at 22:38

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