“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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
Look what I found, a copy neg from an advert in Prosperous Washington published by the Post-Intelligencer in 1906!
Attached was the following photo.
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.
But it gets better. Last week, Paul finally found and forwarded the following shots of the business actually occurring.
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.