Archive for February, 2012

GSGH #11 solution

Executing his second disruption of the four-win Issy/James dynasty, Pedro has identified the location of the eleventh gargoyle in the Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt. Here’s the contest image:

Gargoyle #11

It’s hard to slip a hotel gargoyle past Pedro, so familiar is he with Seattle’s hostelry, and this gargoyle and its twin adorn the Fourth Avenue entrance of the Olympic Hotel, as Pedro has correctly claimed.

They call it the Fairmont Olympic these days. The lions serve as flagpole bases and can be seen just above the 422 bus in the lower right corner.

Of course, it’s not called the Olympic anymore, but that’s what it opened as in 1924 on the site of the original University of Washington. I believe the University still owns the land underneath. has a great piece on “the grande dame of Seattle hotels” so I won’t repeat it all here, but one interesting thing I would point out is that the reason the hotel is shaped the way it is, with two large wings embracing a deep recess on the University Street side, is that it was built around the old (1911) Metropolitan Theater. Together they looked like a great Dane holding a chew toy between its paws. When that older, smaller building was demolished, voila! the drive-up entrance to the hotel was created. My guess is that this belioned entrance on Fourth was the main entrance until then. If you know, please tell us.

Like history's antimatter, the solid enough Metropolitan Theater, right, sits surrounded mostly by empty air, determining the footprint of the future Olympic Hotel. Decades later this same view would show the empty space of the drive-up entrance surrounded by the mass of the hotel. Compare with the first color image below. Image c. 1918 property of Museum of History and Industry.

Demolition, 1956. Surrounded by the expanding hotel, the Metropolitan Theater throws in the towel. Image property of Museum of History and Industry.

The Metropolitan stood in the recess between the wings, directly above the white car passing.

"America's most spectacular hotel entrance" on its opening day, 27 August 1957. Dig the carefree lettering of the hotel's can such bantam signage carry such a massive structure? This is where the Metropolitan stood. Image property of Museum of History and Industry.

The spectacular entrance today.

I have only a little personal history with this building. My folks came down here once or twice to participate in an annual Viennese Waltz Ball. They loved to get dressed up and go dancing, and they splurged a time or two to be numbered among the hotel’s overnight guests, which include a president (John F. Kennedy), a King (Elvis), a Duke (John Wayne), Joan Crawford (Joan Crawford), a crown prince and princess (Akhito and Michiko of Japan) a boss (Jimmy Hoffa) and an emperor (Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, who visited in 1954).

Mara and Gwyneth basking in holiday excitement at the Olympic a few years ago.

There’s a room in the hotel that gets decked out with teddy bears of all sizes and styles every year during Christmas, and ever since Mara and her friend Gwyneth were three or four we’ve taken them there to flop around in the Teddy Bear Suite and read teddy bear books. In time, Gwynnie’s little brother Coren was introduced to this tradition, as more recently was our own wee thing Millie. We usually go downtown and eat dinner, hit the TBS, and then take a spin on the carousel that comes to Westlake Park for the holidays.

I’ll leave you with one other photo I took showing the flagpole bases at closer range. Congratulations again, Pedro, and thanks for playing!

The Olympic Hotel's western entrance on Fourth Avenue. The lions hold up the awning and anchor the flagpoles.


Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt #11

We’ve seen wingéd lions before and we’ll see them again. For the eleventh installment of the Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt we set out in search of this lion. It is one of two lions over a doorway. For rules of play see the first entry, here. (And by the way, GSGH #10 is still active since no one has hazarded an answer for it).

If you know or can find out where this lion is, use the comments to tell us its location.

Gargoyle #11

Close call and silver linings

This morning I lifted Millie out of her crib in the room she shares with Mara and carried her out into the living room so that I could lay her on the sofa to remove her from her sleep sack. As I lowered her and unzipped the fleece cocoon and her puffy, red, warm-from-bed face drew open with a smile a thought came to me that I remember often having when Mara was still a babe in arms, a sense of amazement that this little bundle was not only alive, but alive as a complete human being. She will develop more bone and muscle tissue and she lacks experience, but in the most important ways she is already all here. And the most amazing part is, she is the person Emilia, as differentiated as you or I from all other human beings.

Reflecting on a rough week over her morning milk.

I suppose my mind was turned in this direction because we had a pretty scary week last week where Millie was concerned. She’d just finished a round of antibiotics for an ear infection that came with a bad cold. We thought she was doing a lot better, but the next night she was throwing up multiple times, and the night after that she wouldn’t sleep. We took turns rocking her in the rocking chair all night. Mara had had a nightmare deep in the night on Monday night, so with the upchucking Tuesday night and the all-night vigil on Wednesday, we were zombies by Thursday, which is when Millie’s breathing became extremely labored and she started wheezing horribly and her temperature rose to 104. We ended up at Children’s Hospital overnight Thursday night. I dropped Mara off at her friend Logan’s house for an emergency sleepover, which Mara loved because Logan gets to stay up until eleven or whenever he gets tired.

Angela and Millie and I stayed in a room by ourselves “in isolation”, which meant that every doctor and nurse and aide that came into the room had to suit up outside first with mask, gloves and smock, which they then dumped in a laundry bin before going back out. Besides a massive ear infection, Millie had RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a common enough virus but one that is extremely hard on children under two, and apparently very contagious.

A silver lining. Mara, Logan and Pixie sleeping in.

We are grateful to have Children’s so close by. People bring their children from all over the world to be seen by doctors there. By midnight Millie’s temperature was normal, and she slept off and on all night. I stayed up until three so Angela could sleep on the fold-out bed, then napped next to her between visits by the nurse, which were frequent. At six, Angela got up for a shift and I crashed into a deep sleep for about two hours. Millie continued to improve throughout the day and the nurse talked about us being able to check out by midday, but you know how it goes…we were there until four in the afternoon.

By that time, Angela and I were coming down with the virus. It’s now almost a week later and we’ve been coughing and hacking all week. Our President’s Day was a bust, not the usual raucous day of celebrating past helmsmen of the Executive Branch (kidding, we usually do nothing like most Americans). Millie visited her doctor again that day and we were dismayed to learn that the two doses of high-powered antibiotic she got at the hospital didn’t get rid of her ear infection, in fact she now has them in both ears. Mara has the cough now too. I tell you true, I do not recall having a worse cold in my adult life. It’s like someone’s driven railroad spikes into my throat and pumped Silly Putty up my nostrils, and no cough drops or cold medicine or tea with honey or sleep or hot shower or anything seems to help.

Doctor Mara. Sometimes all you can do is be there for them.

The hospital staff. You're in good hands.

There are silver linings, though. Millie still has an earache (she keeps pointing to her ears and saying “hitz” for “hurts”) but her wheezing is gone and she’s happy again and sleeping through the night. Mara and Logan had a fabulous time and fell asleep side by side in Logan’s top bunk. Because everything in the hospital room would have to be thrown away when we left, the nurses told us to take stuff — diapers, boxes of tissues, whatever was there. We took the smock Millie had been in and a larger one for Mara, and several masks and our parent ID badges and a measuring tape and some colorful bandage wrap. The girls have been using all of it to play hospital.

Yesterday Mara and I were feeling better during the midday and I had a library book due, so we rode the bus downtown and I showed her around the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, which she’s never seen. We watched the elevators working through the glass walls, and we rode the escalators and took short cuts across the famous “books spiral”, we watched for teens in the teen section (saw one) and we looked down from the “highest viewpoint” up on the tenth floor. Then we went back down and ensconced ourselves in the children’s section, where Mara flipped through books in her very complex process of selection.

The top of the library. I doubt we were still contagious, but if Seattle is wiped out by RSV, it's our fault. Sorry.

All things considered we’re doing well. Many others have it so much worse, and any danger to any child is a fright to his or her parents so I know I’m not saying anything profound or new here, but I haven’t posted for ages and I felt like writing. I know how fortunate we are and I’m content to be grateful, though I will be even more grateful when the pain in my throat finally goes away.

A new tradition emerges

Almost every weekday I get off the bus and walk home, a matter of some ten or eleven blocks. I use this time to shift gears from a pragmatic, goal oriented, get-stuff-done mindset to an emotionally connective mindset and to center down and prepare for the draining of my last reserves of mental energy. Most days, Angela will be making dinner, and will need me to draw the barbarians away from their siege of the kitchen, where until I get there she often does her work moving one leg between the oven, the sink, and the refrigerator while pivoting on the one Millie’s hanging on.

Last May. The prospect of the fortunate man as he approaches his castle.

For the past year or two it has been my habit to call the house a few blocks before I turn the corner at the bottom of our hill and let Angela know that she can send Mara out. Mara runs out of the house, often without shoes or a coat no matter what it’s doing out, and runs down the hill to meet me. The rule is, she has to wait until she sees me turn the corner before she can come down the street.

When she was a little younger she ran all the way, her hair flapping from side to side and her flip-flops or her bare feet or her sparkly princess dress-up shoes slapping the sidewalk, and hit me with all her force. I had to brace myself to absorb her momentum and lift her into a swinging circle. Then I would set her down and we would walk up the hill while she told me whatever it was that she could hardly wait to tell me all day; they had donuts, she had a playdate with Gwyneth or Lily; she started her swimming lessons; the lady at the store gave her a sticker; one of the cats got out or threw up. It has always been my favorite part of the day.

Over the past year Mara has gradually stopped running all the way. Sometimes she peters out a few yards in front of me, and sometimes a nice rock or a catkin or an autumn leaf on the sidewalk will arrest her downward career completely. For Millie’s part, ever since she learned to walk she is always in the living room waiting for us when Mara and I walk in, waiting with that full-faced smile. She hugs me or hands me something or points at something and says her word for it, and then having performed her welcoming routine she runs off at full throttle to the kitchen and Mommy.

The power of the forefinger discovered.

Lately a new thing is happening. On a few of those nicer days, Angela brought both girls out to meet me. Mara would be running ahead, and Millie would be on her own feet — she insists on walking, and by now she knows that I am out there somewhere, approaching. Daddy returns. Those few outings have engendered in Millie a dissatisfaction with simply waiting inside while Mara runs off out of sight of the big picture window. She now wants to come out, too, and she doesn’t want to come right back into the house. She wants to “mack”, which means walk.

As tired as I am and as eager as I am to get into the house and change into my playclothes and pour me a cuppa joe, I cannot resist Millie’s tugging on my arm. “Mack”, she says. “Mack”. So for the last couple of evenings, Angela has gone back inside to prepare dinner and make me a cuppa (taking my heavy backpack into the house with her, the dear), and I have let Millie drag Mara and me up to the top of our hill.

Tonight I called and Angela said Mara would be right out, but when I turned the corner I couldn’t see her as I usually do, standing on the steep sidewalk outside our house, craning to get a glimpse of me before shooting down the hill. I kept waiting as I walked but she didn’t come out. I stopped and talked briefly about the efficacy of various anti-mollusc tactics with neighbor Brian — out picking kale in his parking-strip garden for his family’s dinner. When I finally came within a few yards of our house I saw under the rhododendron canopy to where Mara’s rainboots and the lower hem of her yellow raincoat moved slowly along our front walk, and beside Mara’s feet tromped a smaller pair, also fluttered over by a yellow raincoat. Mara’s is a little small for her, Millie’s a bit large.

Sisters unwittingly establishing the family tradition of the pre-dinner walk.

My heart did one of those flippity flops I’ve been getting a lot of lately. Mara had actually waited for Millie and was leading her by the hand. She forgets that Millie’s stride is much shorter than her own and Millie biffed on the steps down to the sidewalk, but Mara picked her up and Millie’s excitement about being on an outing eclipsed any inclination she may have had to express alarm about it. I felt pride in my elder daughter at that moment and great hope, and for my younger I felt the thrill of boundaries breached, the expansiveness and vitality of the toddler on a jail-break.

As twice before, Millie grabbed my hand and started pulling and telling me she wanted to walk. So Mara and Millie and I walked up to the top of the hill. It had rained today and the ground was wet and the giant earthworms that sometimes emerge after long-awaited rain were stretched out from the edges of the sidewalks, their corrugated bodies glistening in the light of nearby streetlamps, their toes in their holes. We learned that if you touch them they zoom back into their dens — all the way back in, suddenly, the same way sea anemones retract their feelers instantly when you reach a finger to touch them. None of them had stretched so far that they were fully outside their hole, which I found remarkable. It made me wonder what they were doing, since they obviously weren’t going anywhere. Maybe they’re taking worm baths. Mara, who used to put slugs on her forearm while she hunted for more and did not know to be afraid of spiders, is now a bit more spooky about creepy and crawly things, and declined to touch them. But Millie was enthralled with the power that her forefinger exhibited, and touched every single earthworm that Mara found for her.

I guess it’s just a done deal now. For the foreseeable future I will be diverted from my front door every evening long enough to go on a short mack.

GSGH #9 solution

We have a winner for the ninth installment of the Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt, the most obscure one so far. It’s Issy again, who avers that she does “love love love this kind of visual and historic traipsing around the city”. My three sentiments exactly.

Gargoyle #9

Above is the contest photo, the only clue Issy had to go by. By actually starting at the brown building visible in the background and exploring radially outward, she located her lions along the cornice of the Hotel Cecil at the southwest corner of First and Spring. Well done again, Issy.

The Cecil's northwest cornice, from Spring Street and Post Alley.

Shot from the rooftop of the National Bldg. Yeah, that's right, I still have the key to the roof. How do you like me now?

The Cecil was one of three buildings on the block — all still present — designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style by Max Umbrecht and built by (James) Clise Investment Co.. The Hotel Cecil and the middle building, the Beebe Building, were both built in 1900-1901 for the capitalist Clifford D. Beebe (whom I keep wanting to call Cecil B. DeMille for obvious reasons). The hotel originally opened as the Waldorf, but upon renovation in 1909 was renamed Cecil after the hotel in London. For a while shortly after that it was called the MacFarland, and in 1921 it was done up again and reopened as the New Arlington, named for its older sibling two blocks north up First Avenue.

The Hotel whatchamacallit. And now it's condos.

I asked Paul Dorpat if he had anything really early on the Cecil and he sent me this. I don't have a date, but the Z. C. Miles & Piper Co. was an original tenant in the building. The lions are hard to see on the dark underside of the cornice. The Beebe Bldg. is to the left and the National Bldg. is behind them, visible at the right. Click for larger (this one's a whopper!)

I only just recently discovered that the three Umbrecht buildings and the building I work in, the National Building, which sits behind them and faces Western, are all part of a big redevelopment project that took place in the early 1980s and which included the six blocks bounded by First Avenue and Alaskan Way and Madison and Seneca. It was called Waterfront Place, and maybe some people still refer to these blocks that way, but I’d never heard the name until I went to do some research on the Cecil, and apparently pieces of the development have been sold multiple times since it was created (in 1995 Falcon Real Estate Investment Company bought the Waterfront Place Building for $16.5 million, then sold it ten years later to San Francisco-based Spear Street Capital LLC for just shy of $42 million).

The president of Cornerstone, whom you may recognize as a younger Paul Schell, surveying his urban-neighborhood-to-be and wishing he'd kept his Matchbox cars. The Cecil is front center with arched windows and the Beebe and Globe are next to it. Watermark Tower is at right, on a block that also includes the historic Colonial and Grand Pacific hotels (out of frame). The National Bldg is the red brick. The Waterfront Place Building is back left, and the never-built Cornerstone Building is back right. The sixth block, where the tennis court is, became a parking garage, and the tennis court is now on top of it. This photo from the brochure is the only one I've been able to find that shows the conceived Waterfront Place. Image copyright Cornerstone, as far as I know.

The Watermark Tower, which sits kitty-corner across the alley from us on the retained, original base of the 1915 Colman Building, was and is the centerpiece of Waterfront Place, but the project included the restoration of the National, Globe, and Beebe buildings and the Cecil, Colonial and Grand Pacific hotels, and the creation of the monstrous (but I suppose cool and sensible) Waterfront Place Building that blocks our view of Elliott Bay. There was apparently supposed to be another behemoth next to the Waterfront Place Building called the Cornerstone Building, named after the development company behind the whole thing (see photo above), but there is only a parking lot there. I didn’t realize I’d been working for seven years in an urban subdivision (go to this writer’s samples page and click the “Cornerstone Development Company Marketing Brochure”).

In this 1891 birdseye, only the Colonial Hotel exists on the SW corner of First and Seneca. The warehouses at map item #76 are now a parking lot and the depot at #15 is where the Waterfront Place Building is. Most of what will later be the Waterfront Place development -- including my building -- are holes between the street piers where drunken sailors fell through into the tidewater.

In this birdseye map of 1903 a few more buildings have been built on land that was beach just a few short years before. The National Building will begin to emerge a year later. I've marked the six "Waterftont Place" blocks in red. The cartographer conflated the names of the Beebe and Cecil and conveniently flattened the land, especially along Seneca. The Colman Building that the Watermark Tower replaced on the northwest corner of First and Spring is still twelve years from being built and not to be confused with the other two Colman buildings already standing in the lower right corner, the older of which is still there -- only a lot taller -- and the newer of which has been a parking lot for time out of mind until just last year, when a new building was begun that is not yet finished.

How those same six blocks look today. Almost everything in this recent photo used to be Elliott Bay. Image copyright Bing.

I know I’m getting way off topic here but I can’t resist putting up just one more photo, this one shot last July from the National Building’s rooftop looking north past the cream-colored Watermark Tower (at the right edge) and beyond to the Harbor Steps condos and the gleaming new Russell Investments Center. The backsides of the Colonial and the Grand Pacific hotels are the brick affairs low on the right side of the image.

The foreground here includes much of Waterfront Place's northern half.

Thanks again for playing, Issy (and for giving me an excuse to put up so many photos and illustrations). You’re the player to beat.


The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt