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Washington Plaza Hotel opens on June 29, 1969.
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On June 29, 1969, the Washington Plaza Hotel opens in Seattle on the site of the old Orpheum Theatre. It is the first luxury hotel built in downtown Seattle since 1929. The hotel is located at 1900 5th Avenue.
Plans for the Washington Plaza Hotel were announced on
December 28, 1966, by Eddie Carlson (1911-1990), president of Western
International Hotels. Earlier plans called for an arc-shaped, 22-story addition
to the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, located on the site of the Orpheum
Theatre. When the costs of building an
addition became prohibitive, Western International decided to build a
completely new hotel.
Calrson explained that the Washington Plaza Hotel would be a
39-story, circular hotel, joined to the Benjamin Franklin and providing a total
of 728 rooms. The 386-foot tower would contain 442 guest rooms served by three
passenger elevators and two service elevators. Public facilities, including a
cocktail lounge and a Trader Vic's restaurant, would be on the first three
levels, and a common lobby for both the Washington Plaza and Benjamin Franklin
would be on the second level. The first level included a motor entrance. A
seven-level parking garage would adjoin the building
Initial cost for the project was $18 million. John Graham
& Associates, who designed the Space Needle for the 1962 Seattle World's
Fair, were the architects for the hotel.
The Howard S. Wright Construction Company, builder of the Space Needle,
was the general contractor. Interior design was by Western Service and Supply
The Curtain Falls
Before the hotel could go up, the Orpheum Theatre and an old
parking garage had to come down. On June 26, 1967, a two-day auction was held
at the venerable old theater, and everything was up for grabs -- film projectors,
art work, furniture, and even plumbing fixtures. On hand to bid the theater
farewell were B. Marcus Priteca (1889-1971), the Orpheum's architect, and
orchestra leader Charles "Tiny" Burnett (1888-1974), who had been there
in 1927 for the theatre's opening.
Once the Orpheum was picked clean and was ready for
demolition, Western International Hotels marked the beginning of construction
with a balloon launch from the future hotel site. From the roof of the Benjamin
Franklin Hotel, Eddie Carlson raised a giant balloon to 386 feet, marking the
new hotel's height. At street level, 1,000 helium balloons were released. Some contained dinner tickets for anyone lucky enough to find one.
The Orpheum came under the wrecking ball on August 6, 1967, and
was completely gone by October. The hole for the hotel's foundation was dug
soon after, and workers began pouring concrete by the end of the year. Over
2,500 cubic yards of concrete was used for the foundation.
Work started on the hotel's core in January, 1968, but by
spring a steel fabricators strike slowed construction. In May, work stalled
just as the fifth floor was being built, and construction didn't go back into
full swing until after the strike was settled in July. The Spring 1969 opening of the hotel was
pushed back to June.
Slowly but surely, the hotel rose, a floor at a time. On
January 15, 1969, a "topping off" ceremony was held, marking the
final hoist of steel used in the building's shell. Standing atop the tower,
Eddie Carlson spoke to about 60 invitees willing to brave the cold weather. The
highlight of the ceremony was the placement of a royal crown atop a three-foot-tall
model of the hotel.
During construction of the tower, the Benjamin Franklin
Hotel -- known to many locals as "The Ben" -- was getting a facelift of
its own. Built in 1929, the Ben was brought into the modern era with new
paneling, carpets, and other accoutrements so that it would be a worthy partner
to its new neighbor.
Western International Hotels took out full page ads in the
local papers explaining that the Benjamin Franklin Hotel wasn't going away, but
would be an integral part of the entire project. The ad stated, "We're
calling the "Ben" part, the plaza. And we're calling the "tower"
part, the tower (The Seattle Times, April 4, 1969). The ad also described some of
the new amenities that people could look forward too, including the Plaza
Ballroom and the Westlake Room supper club, with live music and dancing. The
Rib Room (renamed a few weeks later as the Beef Room) would be the place to go
for fine dining, cocktails would be available in the Plaza Library, and an
enlarged Trader Vic's would provide a "gourmet escape to the South
The Seventh Wonder
A week before the hotel opened, the Westlake Room announced
upcoming shows that had already been booked for Seattle's newest night club.
Gordon MacRae was the first headliner, followed a week later by singer Jaye
P. Morgan. Other acts throughout the summer included Billy Eckstine, Abbe Lane,
Shari Lewis, Eartha Kitt, and the Four Freshman. The Westlake Room could seat
210 guests, and the cover charge was $3.50.
The final days before the opening were hectic. More than 400
people had been hired for work at the new hotel, and many had been in training
sessions since June 1. Interior decorators scrambled to hang chandeliers, place
art work, and make sure that everything would be clean and spotless. Employees
and their spouses were invited to spend a night at the hotel before it officially
opened, to evaluate services and operations.
On the day of the opening, Western International Hotels took
out another full page ad in the papers, proclaiming the Washington Plaza Hotel
as one of Seattle's seven great wonders. The ad copy stated "In our
opinion, the others are Woodland Park Zoo, Pike Place Market, the Monorail, the
Space Needle, the domed stadium (when it's built), and the Olympic Hotel
(because it's another Western International Hotel and a perfectly marvelous
The guest rooms were full on opening day. Shriners from
across the country were in town for their annual convention, and although most
of their meetings took place at the Olympic Hotel, the fez-wearing funsters
filled both hotels.
The new tower, combined with the Ben Franklin Hotel, offered
715 guest rooms and suites, 11 meeting and conference rooms, a grand ballroom,
bars, restaurants, and parking for some 300 cars. In 1981, the Washington Plaza
Hotel was renamed the Westin Hotel. A twin tower, the north tower, was completed in 1982. The north
tower, which replaced the Benjamin Franklin Hotel, is 449 feet high and has 44
"$11 Million, 22-Story Addition Planned for Ben
Franklin Hotel," The Seattle Times,
August 10, 1966, p. 18; "Ben Franklin May Get 35-Story Tower," The Seattle Times, August 10, 1966, p.
18; "39-Story Tower Hotel Set for Orpheum Site," The Seattle Times, December 28, 1966, p. 1; "Orpheum Theatre
Gets a Farewell," The Seattle Times,
June 19, 1967, p. 11; "Construction Begins on 39-Story Hotel," The Seattle Times, July 31, 1967, p. 8;
"Orpheum's Final Wall Yields," The
Seattle Times, October 16, 1967, p. 20; "Base for 40-Story Hotel
Poured," The Seattle Times,
December 5, 1967, p. 68; Washington Plaza Hotel ad, The Seattle Times, April 4, 1969, p. 64; "Only Tower is Needed
for Completion of Hotel," The
Seattle Times, May 26, 1968, p. D-6; "Workers Approve 3-Year Metal
Contract, End Strike," The Seattle
Times, July 20, 1968, p. 11; "Top Fete Slated at Plaza," The Seattle Times, January 12, 1969, p.
C-3; "MacRae Leads Off in Plaza's
Lineup," The Seattle Times, June
13, 1969, p. 34; "Hotel Construction in Home Stretch," The Seattle Times, June 15, 1969, p. 2-A;
Washington Plaza Hotel ad, The Seattle
Times, April 4, 1969, p. 64; "Washington Plaza is Now Westin
Hotel," The Seattle Times,
September 1, 1981, p. D-7; "Westin Hotel South
Tower," and "Westin Hotel North Tower," (www.skyscraperpage.com).
Note: This essay replaces an earlier essay on the same subject.
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Washington Plaza Hotel (John Graham Associates, 1969), with monorail, Seattle, 1969
Early design for the Washington Plaza Hotel, John Graham Associates, 1965
Courtesy UW Special Collections
Washington Plaza Hotel (John Graham Associates, 1969)Seattle, 1969
Courtesy UW Special Collections
Westin Hotel, north and south tower (John Graham Associates, 1969, 1982), with monorail, Seattle, September 2001
HistoryLink.org Photo by Priscilla Long