Franz Xavier "F. X." Schreiner was one of Seattle’s well-known entrepreneurs during the 1890s and early 1900s. Perhaps most famous for his Merchant’s Café in the city's Pioneer Square, he also was involved in a wide variety of other enterprises, and lived in Seattle from 1888 until 1922. This biography was written as a People's History by Suzanne Livingston Hansen, his great-granddaughter.
An Adventurous Spirit
Franz Xavier Schreiner, known as "F. X.," was an entrepreneur with an adventurous spirit. Born in Germany on December 14, 1859, the eighth of 10 children of Jakob and Julianna (Zwilling) Schreiner, he left home at the age of 16, emigrating from Schwandorf, Bavaria, in southern Germany to Philadelphia to avoid being drafted into the Prussian Army. He came from a long line of "glassermeisters," or master glass and crystal artisans. In Philadelphia he learned the trade of baker and confectioner from his cousin, Karl "Charles" Schreiner.
At age 21, F. X. enlisted in the United States Army cavalry in Baltimore during the Indian Wars Campaign and was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, as a baker. The cavalry later moved to Garrison River, Colorado, where they relocated the Ute Indians to Green River, Utah. F. X. later was stationed a Fort Wingate in New Mexico Territory, then Fort Apache in Arizona Territory, under the command of a young lieutenant, John Pershing. It was the job of the cavalry to protect the ranchers, townspeople, and travelers from the sometimes hostile Indians led by the famed Geronimo.
While serving in the military, F. X. met his future bride, Mary Gertrude Thompson, who was attending Loretto Convent School in Santa Fe. After completing his five-year tour of duty he was discharged from the army in 1886. He and Mary were wed the following year in Holbrook, Arizona Territory, where her widowed father lived. Mary, the daughter of George Thompson and Lena Gertrude Everett, was born January 28, 1869, in Maine. Her father was a Civil War veteran who had contracted consumption during his service, and the family had relocated to Arizona for a drier climate.
On July 10, 1887, F. X. became a naturalized citizen at St. John's, Arizona Territory. The newlyweds opened a bakery in Holbrook that burned down in 1888. The young couple then moved to Seattle, where Mary had family who had recently moved to the area. Her uncle, Jesse Murdock "J. M." Thompson, part owner of Pacific Cable Company, was at the time installing the first cable car rail lines in Seattle.
Doing Well in Seattle
F. X. bought the California Bakery, located at Front and Battery streets, in January, 1889. The bakery was spared from the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889, and four days later he sold the business for a profit of $400. He invested in real estate, crops, and various other business endeavors, including the wholesale liquor trade.
At the beginning of the Gold Rush, F. X. made a trip to the Klondike to determine the needs of the miners. Again he prospered, as he was the first to send a shipment of horses to Chilkoot Pass. He sold supplies to miners enroute to Alaska and would grub-stake penniless miners in exchange for a percentage of the poke when they returned. In 1898, he began payments for the purchase of Merchants Café at a cost of $3,000.
Merchants was a restaurant, hotel, and saloon. On Sundays, F. X. operated a "Sunday Bank" at the cafe, exchanging miners' gold dust for cash. Merchants Cafe became a center for those going to and from the Klondike, and in two years, the mortgage on the business was satisfied, and that same year, for a price of $46,000, he signed a contract to purchase the Sanderson Building in which the cafe was located. The final payment on that purchase was made in 1905.
During the 1890's, F. X. owned several Seattle businesses including Lawson & Schreiner; Cumberland Store & Saloon; Meisner & Schreiner; Schreiner & Bauman Columbia Beer Hall, Billiards, Pool & Bowling Alley; and Schreiner & Emel Saloon and Bowling Alley. In the early 1900s he owned Schreiner & Ruiz Bank Liquor Company and Crown Liquor Company. He owned numerous lots in downtown Seattle and developed Schreiner’s Garden Tracts, then located north of the city limits but now part of Seattle.
After the sudden death of his wife, Mary, in 1905, F. X. retired, left the management of his affairs to Merchant's Cafe's former owner Charles Osner, closed up his house, and returned to Germany, where his three children, Eleanor, Carl, and Gertrude, were enrolled in distinguished boarding schools. For two years he enjoyed all the pleasures associated with the upper class; traveling throughout Europe, the Middle East, China, and Japan; enjoying spas; attending operas and balls.
The family returned to Seattle in 1907, bringing with them Gertrude's governess, Anna Spirek, whom F. X. married the following year. In 1909 they moved into their newly constructed house on the fashionable Millionaire's Row on Capitol Hill. Two daughters, Marguerite and Elizabeth, were born to F. X. and Anna.
Daughter Gertrude played the Northwest Tennis Circuit, establishing a reputation of her own. At the University of Washington she majored in journalism and became a sports writer for The Seattle Times. An article from the New York Editor and Publisher on July 7, 1918, stated that "She was believed to be the first woman sporting editor to be employed on a metropolitan daily in the United States who covered the entire scope of the field."
F. X. was a member and sponsor of the Opera Society, German Club, Arctic Club, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. In 1913 he accompanied the Chamber of Commerce on a seven-week trip to Alaska. The purpose of the trip was to attract business investments to the territory, taking advantage of its forestry, minerals, furs, and fisheries. Among the passengers were the U.S. president’s representative, East Coast and European investors, Alaskan government officials, and Seattle business people.
When liquor prohibition hit Washington in 1916, F. X. handed over the operation of Merchants Cafe to his son, Carl, and nephew, Johann "John" Schreiner. Carl left Merchants in 1919, and three years later F. X. sold the business to John for $10 and moved to Los Angeles for the weather and to pursue real-estate opportunities. Under John's ownership, Merchants Cafe weathered both prohibition and the Great Depression. It remained in the Schreiner family for 74 years and is (2012) recognized as Seattle's oldest restaurant. F. X. died on September 3, 1947, in Los Angeles at the age of 88.