Denny/Washington Hotel (Seattle)

  • By Paul Dorpat
  • Posted 2/20/2001
  • Essay 2990
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Between 1890 and 1906, Seattle's Denny/Washington Hotel, advertised as "The Scenic Hotel of the West," straddled 3rd Avenue between Stewart and Virginia streets on the south summit of Denny Hill. (Denny Hill was subsequently flattened.) The Denny Hotel was conceived and begun in 1889 by a group of developers including Seattle founding father Arthur Denny (1822-1899). The Panic of 1893 halted the proceedings with interiors incomplete, and the turreted shell hung over Seattle for a decade. James A. Moore (1861-1929) bought it and it flourished as the Washington Hotel for one or two summers before the Denny Hill regrade regraded it out of existence.

A Looming Presence

The looming presence of the Denny Hotel looking down on the city from its prospect atop Denny Hill was a sublime delight mixed with nervousness. Soon after its construction, this Victorian showpiece became increasingly more of a specter than a hotel. Planned before the city’s Great Fire of 1889, the Denny was built in the first two years following the fire.

Squabbling among its developers -- including city father Arthur Denny -- kept this imposing landmark closed and unfurnished. The sudden crash of the 1893 economic panic kept the doors shut for another 10 years.

A Presidential Touch

It required Teddy Roosevelt to unbar them during his brief visit here in May 1903. Renamed the Washington Hotel, Seattle’s super-developer James Moore managed to both exorcise the hotel’s dismal record and fulfill its great promise almost instantly with one good night’s sleep by the President of the United States. Moore’s hotel prospered through the summer.

Subsequently, rather than fight the city’s plans to cut into the hotel’s landscape with the regrading of 2nd Avenue north of Pine Street, Moore announced that he would cooperate and build a block-long theater along the exposed east side of 2nd Avenue between Stewart and Virginia streets. He also proposed to enlarge the two wings of the Washington Hotel north to Virginia Street and extend the already generous landscape by spreading the hotel lawn onto the roof of the theater.

Earlier that summer, the city had agreed to sprinkle for free the hotel’s oversized lawn, some of which was precipitous and surely difficult to groom.

Plans Regraded

James Moore’s plan to blend the hotel he had saved with a theater to memorialize him failed. Moore got his namesake theater (it survives at the southeast corner of Virginia Street and 2nd Avenue), but he lost his hostelry when the razing of Denny Hill lowered the site of the "scenic hotel of the West" by about 100 feet between 1906 and 1907. With it went the grass, the Victorian terrace, and the view.


Paul Dorpat, "Now & Then," The Seattle Times, Northwest Magazine, May 14, 2000; Walt Crowley with Paul Dorpat (Photography Editor), National Trust Guide: Seattle (New York: John Wiley & Son, Inc., 1998), 117-120.

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