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Now & Then -- Seattle's Kalmar Hotel
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This file contains Seattle historian and photographer Paul Dorpat's Now & Then photographs and reflections on the Kalmar Hotel which once stood in Seattle at 6th Avenue and James Street.
In l962, University of Washington architect Victor Steinbrueck published
his sketchbook (now a local classic), Seattle Cityscape. One of its lovingly rendered pen-&-ink drawings was of the Hotel Kalmar,
built in 1881 at 6th Avenue and James Street. Steinbrueck's caption tells
us that it is the "only remaining [Seattle] example of an early pioneer
hotel. ... With its pumpkin-colored wooden siding and band-sawn details, it
has been a picturesque part of Seattle's personality. ... much of Seattle's
history has been viewed from its wide veranda, but now it is being destroyed
to make room for the freeway."
The Kalmar was razed in April 1962.
For more than 70 years, Kalmar guests heard the clanging struggle of the
James Street cable cars as they gripped their way up and down the steep side
of First Hill. Leonard Brand, the last manager of the Kalmar along with his
sister Viola, grew positively fond of that noise. "That clang and clatter
didn't bother me at all. Now and again, though, and very often in the middle
of the night, they'd shut down the line for repairs. The quiet would wake me
right out of a deep sleep."
Actually, he'd never known anything else. He was but three months old
when his parents bought the house and renamed it after his mother's hometown
The Kalmar was a workingman's hotel -- when there was work. Many guests
were Scandinavian loggers attracted, no doubt, by the name. They were
ordinarily sober bachelors who sent their money home. The Kalmar was their
home away from home.
In l955, the Kalmar's fate was prescribed when the path of the proposed (Interstate 5)
freeway, then called the "Seattle tollway," was drawn through it. Since the
freeway, that grandest materialization of progress, could not be moved,
local preservationists tried to freeze the Kalmar, promoting a city-wide
policy that would prevent the "removal, alteration or remodeling of
historical properties without the city council's approval."
In l960, responding to the imminent destruction of the Kalmar and three
other historical landmarks, Steinbrueck reflected, "To let them be destroyed
is esthetic idiocy on the part of the city. It would be like the case of an
idiot who lives only in the present and has no memory of the past. ... Things
which have associations and give us a sense of memory are part of our city."
Steinbrueck lamented, "When I go back now to many of these places,
nothing is left ... I have only my pictures." Of course, both the attempts
to freeze and later to move the Kalmar failed. And now we too are left with
only the pictures.
Paul Dorpat, Seattle: Now and Then Vol. 2 (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1988), Story 27.
Note: This essay was edited for HistoryLink.org in 1999.
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