Now & Then -- Seattle Hotel vs. the Sinking Ship

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2570
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Although devoid of humans, these two examples of architectural photography taken in Pioneer Square are not without human interest -- far from it. Where once the softly lit arches of windows, long-stemmed ferns, and Ionic columns encouraged moments of relaxed meditation, now the oil-soiled concrete of an eye-sore inspires nothing.

The "now" scene was shot within the gray hull of what is grimly called the Sinking Ship -- that skid road parking garage whose nihilistic construction depresses the flatiron block where James Street and Yesler Way meet at Pioneer Square.

Where the garage sinks, the Seattle Hotel once stood. This rare photograph of the hotel's mezzanine parlor suggests human life, the comforts of every human who ever enjoyed it.

The razing of the landmark hotel began on the forenoon of April 3, 1961. This downright sleazy work was pulled off in the name of "urban renewal."

Ultimately and happily, if too late for the Seattle Hotel, the city responded with -- not renewal -- but renovation. But it took a lot of pushing through to create a Pioneer Square Historic District.

One of the early pushers for the human future of fine old architecture was 12-year-old Christy Nelsen. Christy read of the announced demolition, and she spent 34 cents on a special delivery letter to The Seattle Times. "Why don't you adults use your heads?" she asked. "The Seattle Hotel is one of our most historic buildings, and you are letting some million of dollars be wasted on a gas station to be built on top of it."


Paul Dorpat, Seattle: Now and Then Vol. 2 (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1988), Story 8.

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