Broderick, Henry (1880-1975)

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 4/11/2006
  • Essay 7701
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Henry Broderick was a highly respected Seattle civic leader and the longtime president of the city's largest real estate firm. From the time he arrived in town in 1901 until his death seven decades later, Broderick was involved in almost every important aspect of Seattle civic life, boosting, chairing, contributing financially, and most importantly observing and recording what he saw, foibles and all. For his extensive and unique contribution to the fabric of life in Seattle, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Henry Broderick First Citizen of 1952.

Henry Broderick was born in Minneapolis on October 12, 1880, the youngest of 10 children born to Irish immigrants Mary Cronin Broderick and Laurence Broderick.  Laurence Broderick was a street shoveler and laborer whose earlier incidental duties included helping cut down from the scaffold in the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard the bodies of Mary Surratt, Lewis Thorton Powell, David Herold, George Atzerodt, who were convicted of a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln and hanged for the crime on July 7, 1865.

Summa Cum Library

Henry Broderick was educated in the Minneapolis public schools. He quit formal schooling at age 13 after only six months of high school and found work as an office boy at the Minneapolis Telephone Company, using his $15 weekly salary to help support his parents and siblings. Late in his life he told Emmett Watson, then a columnist for The Seattle Times, that he had left school as a result of the worldwide financial panic of 1893, but that at night he studied Greek classics in the library, continuing his education as best he could. "I am a graduate of the Minneapolis Public Library," he told Watson and others over the years (November 6, 1986). 

Broderick taught himself how to compose advertising layout by studying trade journals and, using a free travel pass on the Great Western Railway that was a benefit of his employment at the Telephone Company, he traveled to Chicago and began creating ads for Lord and Thomas, a large advertising agency there. 

On October 4, 1901 Broderick married Mary Barclay of St. Louis, Missouri, and moved with her to Seattle. He found work with John Davis & Company, one of the city's leading real estate firms, working his way up the ladder from posting For Sale signs around the city to writing advertisements to managing the real estate department. Broderick's duties eventually included acquiring property for the Union Pacific Railroad, an enormously high profile task that kept him in the public eye. Within a few years of his near-penniless arrival in town, Broderick became a public figure whose comings and goings were frequently noted in local newspapers and even in his hometown Minneapolis newspapers. 

In Clover

In 1908 he founded his own real estate firm, Henry Broderick, Inc., serving as president until 1965 and thereafter as chairman of the board. Broderick's initial location was in the New York Block (later the site of the Dexter Horton Building).  He expanded into the Hoge Building and in 1931 moved his offices to 623 2nd Avenue (now the Broderick Building), his business home until 1967.

For many years Broderick's firm was the largest real estate firm in Seattle, and there were few parcels of downtown land that were not at some point bought or sold by Henry Broderick, Inc. In 1969 the firm, the largest in the Pacific Northwest at the time, was sold to Coldwell, Banker, and Company. 

Broderick described his heady earliest days running his real estate business in his memoir, Timepiece:

"The release of all this new money in the town generated a realty movement of a sensational sort. Many who had fed where the grass was short all their lives suddenly found themselves in clover.  Quick profits became commonplace. Big money was as common as small change ... many properties in live zones [i.e., tide flats that were later filled and sold as railroad right-of-way] sold at advanced prices, two and three times in a single day, and buyers begged for options of one hour only instead of the usual thirty or sixty days ... Seattle was sizzling" (p. 38).

World's Fairs and Festivities

In 1909 Henry Broderick was the youngest of 49 trustees of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Seattle's first World's Fair. The front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's  special first-day A-Y-P section on June 1, 1909, headlined "The Men Who Made The Exposition," showed photographs of the trustees including a dashing shot of Broderick.  In the press scrapbook Broderick kept during this period, his handwritten comment above this page is "Me and my Aids" (Henry Broderick scrapbook).  In 1962, as the only A-Y-P trustee still living, he served as a trustee of Seattle's second World's Fair, the Century 21 Exposition. 

In between the two events Broderick also directed several of the Golden Potlatch festivals that commemorated the Seattle arrival of the steamer Portland loaded with gold from the Klondike River in Canada's Yukon Territory, an event that heralded the beginning of the Gold Rush. In 1974 Broderick was named an honorary trustee of Expo 74, Spokane's World's Fair.

"I'm Going to Know More"

Seattle historian Clarence Bagley described Broderick in his 1929 History of King County, Washington: "Liberally endowed with energy and determination as well as that quality which has been termed 'the commercial sense,' Henry Broderick has registered achievement in every direction in which his activities led him" (p. 743).  In his late 80s Broderick, still working five and a half days each week, told Seattle Times reporter Trudy Weckworth, "I always felt Seattle would be a large city.  Everything I did was based on that theory.  When I started out, I said to myself, 'I will sell Seattle business property, but I'm going to know more about that than anyone in the City of Seattle' " (Seattle Public Library clipping, ca. March 1970).

In addition to buying and selling real estate, Henry Broderick Inc. was also one of the largest property managers in the state. The firm's insurance and property management business helped Henry Broderick Inc. stay afloat during the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

For People, Against Discrimination

Henry Broderick became known for his refusal to discriminate against Jews, giving up a contract to manage the Olympian Apartments, a large facility at 1605 E Madison, rather than accommodate the owner's stipulation that he not rent to anyone who was Jewish. As a result of this stand, Broderick's firm attracted many Jewish clients. The firm also refused to sell houses into which Jews were excluded from moving, either by covenant or informal understanding.

Henry and Mary Broderick's house at 1717 39th Avenue in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood, built for them in 1906, became a center for the couple's lively gatherings.  The Brodericks had no children, but frequently opened their home to young people they met through their many civic activities.  Edgar Stewart described "1717," as Henry Broderick called it, in his book Washington: Northwest Frontier:

"High school and university students, as well as personnel of the armed forces, have enjoyed classical music or boogie-woogie in the Brodericks' music room, walked alone, in pairs, or groups over the landscaped grounds, and many a talented youngster has been helped to a career by the Brodericks' generosity.  One thing at "1717-39th" that is taboo is business or 'shop-talk.'  The taboo extends even to visiting dignitaries, newspaper reporters, and college half-backs" (p. 351).

Broderick had a collection of more than 100 harmonicas and took great pleasure in playing them. "Can't teach a man to play the harmonica," he told Seattle Times columnist Don Duncan. "They ask me, but I say you must be born with the ability. We are a breed apart, the last of the true renegades" (December 13, 1967).


Henry Broderick was an original member of the Board of Regents of Seattle University, serving from 1951 to 1975.  Father A. A. Lemieux (1908-1979), Seattle University's president from 1948-1965, considered Broderick an important mentor.  Broderick received the Seattle University Alumni Club's Distinguished Service Award in 1963 and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1966.  The Broderick Memorial Fountain on the Seattle University campus memorializes Mary Broderick, who died in 1958.

A longtime member of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce (where he served a term as president), Broderick was also a member of the Rainier Club, the Seattle Press Club, the Seattle Tennis Club, Washington Athletic Club, 101 Club, and Harbor Club.  He served on the board of directors of The Seattle Star, the Seattle Day Nursery, and, from 1929-1933, the Washington Prison Parole Board. 

Broderick also sat on the board of the Seattle Symphony and served a term as president.  He was a member of the Seattle Arts Commission, a trustee of the Seattle Chorale, and was a founding member of the Seattle Realty Board (now the Seattle-King County Board of Realtors).  Broderick served a term as president of the Downtown Boosters Club and was a member of Greater Seattle, Inc. and the Pacific Northwest International Writer's Conference, among many other organizations.  Broderick listed the Catholic Church among his many memberships. 

On December 14, 1952, the Seattle Board of Realtors announced that Henry Broderick, one of their own, had been awarded the prestigious First Citizen Award.  The First Citizen Award is given annually to recognize extraordinary dedication to the Seattle community.  The awards banquet at the Olympic Hotel included a program of musical selections representing the various phases of Broderick's real estate career.

Memories and Musings

Beginning with Christmas 1932 up until his death Henry Broderick wrote small yearly historical booklets and mailed them, inscribed and hand-addressed, to his friends as holiday greetings.  These booklets, in which Broderick philosophized and expounded on his own take on the historical events large and small in which he was both participant and personal observer, were highly prized by the recipients. Broderick told reporter Lucile McDonald (1898-1992), "Friends have told others about my booklets and I've received letters asking to be placed on my list.  As a result I've built up a correspondence with persons all over the country, some of whom are prominent in the writing world" (The Seattle Times, December 21, 1958).  Frank McCaffrey's Dogwood Press printed the booklets, eventually in editions upward of 500 copies.  Broderick also collected his Christmas musings into two book-length memoirs, Timepiece and The "HB" Story.

As Broderick aged and especially as he continued to publish these yearly booklets of memories and musings, anecdotes, some of them probable apocryphal, about his individual eccentricities began accumulating in the press.  These were fond tributes that emphasized the general affection in which his city held him.  Broderick never drove, relying instead on public taxis.  Mary Broderick drove briefly, but gave it up in 1911.  Broderick was well known for being straightforward and friendly to people from all walks of life, and had many acquaintances among the cabdrivers.   A decade after Broderick's death, Emmett Watson wrote in The Seattle Times, "Once when Henry was gravely ill in Providence Hospital, the call went out for blood donations.  In a matter of minutes, 27 cabbies descended on the hospital, creating a minor traffic jam" (November 6, 1986). 

Broderick's wide variety of friends included social critic H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), novelist and playwright Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987), cabaret legend Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972), Hollywood trial lawyer Jake Ehrlich (1900-1971), and Seattle-born strip tease phenomenon Gypsy Rose Lee (1911-1970).

Feet on the Ground

Although Boeing Aviation founder William Boeing was another close friend, Broderick resisted all urgings to try air travel until he was 88, when he finally succumbed to friendly pressure and boarded a United Air Lines flight to San Francisco to attend his own 89th birthday party hosted by San Francisco financier and philanthropist Louis Lurie (1888-1972).  Broderick had met Lurie, then a Seattle printer, in 1908 and got him into the real estate business. 

Prior to this jaunt, Broderick's longstanding mistrust of air travel was so great that he turned down a seat on the board of Northwest Airlines, telling the firm's president "Your meetings are held in St. Paul, right?  Well, how would it look if a Northwest Airlines director traveled to St. Paul on the Great Northern Railroad!" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 8, 1975).

Death of a Legendary Seattleite

Henry Broderick died on October 7, 1975, at the age of 94.  His status in Seattle was legendary.  Seventy-five honorary pallbearers stood by at St. James Cathedral as the Reverend S. J. Lemieux, S.J., the former president of Seattle University, celebrated the funeral Mass. 

An editorial in The Seattle Times summed up the loss of this living link to Seattle's past: "The death yesterday of Henry Broderick left sadness in the hearts of thousands whose lives were enriched by his wealth, his philanthropy, and his wit ... and signaled an end to an era in American history that started when Horace Greeley said, 'Go West, young man. 'I want people to think of me as a fellow with a hard head and a soft heart,' he once said of himself ... H.B. was a legend who thought of himself as just another of God's creatures" (October 8, 1975).

In 1986 the Bailey Block, home to Henry Broderick's real estate firm for 43 years, was renamed the Broderick Building.


Henry Broderick, The "HB" Story (Seattle: Dogwood Press, 1969); Henry Broderick, Timepiece by "HB" (Seattle: Dogwood Press, 1953); Arthur Allen, Who's Who In Washington State, Vol. 1, 1927 (Seattle: Arthur H. Allen, 1927), 42; Capitol’s Who’s Who for Washington 1949-50 (Portland: Capitol Publishing Company, 1949), 207; Who’s Who In Washington 1963 Century 21 Edition ed. by Bernice White (Olympia: Hugh L. White, 1963), 203; Clarence Bagley, History of Seattle, Vol. 3 (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1916), 603; Clarence Bagley, History of King County, Washington, Vol. 2 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1929), 743; Murray Morgan, Century 21: The Story of Seattle's World's Fair, 1962 (Seattle: Acme Press, 1963), 29; "Mass Set Friday For Henry Broderick," The Seattle Times, October 8, 1975, p. H-7; "Rites Set For Mrs. Henry Broderick," Ibid., January 28, 1958, p. 39; Lucile McDonald, "His Christmas Greetings Have Literary Touch," Ibid., December 21, 1958, p. 10; John J. Reddin, "Character (s) Helped Make Seattle," Ibid., December 8, 1967, p. 2; "Henry Broderick," Ibid., October 8, 1975; Don Duncan, "Henry Broderick: Tall Tales of a Man And His Music," Ibid., December 13, 1967, p. 18; Trudy Weckworth, "Hard Work Secret OF Success," Ibid., ca. March 1970, Clippings Folder, "Broderick, Henry" Seattle Public Library; Emmett Watson, "One-Of-A-Kind Anecdotes From the Broderick Era," Ibid., November 6, 1986, p. B-1; "Broderick, Heeding Doctor, Never Has Driven Auto," Ibid., December 16, 1958; "Broderick Funeral," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 11, 1975; Emmett Watson, "Past and Present Tense," Ibid., May 24, 1974, p. A-11; "Broderick Presented Plaque," Ibid., January 23, 1953; "Henry Broderick, Builder of Seattle, Is Dead at 94," Ibid., October 8, 1975, p. A-14; "Broderick Celebrates 90th With Octogenarian Pals," ibid., October 18, 1970; "Henry Broderick at San Francisco Party," Ibid, October 13, 1970; "Henry Broderick Takes Another Look At The AYP," bid., May 18, 1971, p. 27; "The Shoveler: This Was My Father," n.d., Biographical Clippings File titled "Broderick, Henry," Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries; Walt Crowley, Seattle University: A Century Of Jesuit Education (Seattle: Seattle University, 1991), 73; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Lemieux, Reverend A. A. (1908-1979)" (by Paula Becker), (accessed January 30, 2006); Junius Rochester, The last Electric Trolley (Seattle: Tommie Press, 2000); Edgar Irving Stewart, Washington: Northwest Frontier (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1957), 351; Henry Broderick Scrapbook microfilm, Acc. No. 2350, Drawer 7, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries; Jay Dexter Holman, A History of Henry Broderick, Inc. (Seattle: University of Washington, 1967); "Henry Broderick Interviewed by Meta Kaplan and Karyl Winn," Seattle, Washington, October 23, 1974, typescript transcript of sound cassette #187, drawer 19, Jewish Archives Project of the Washington State Jewish Historical Society and University of Washington Libraries Special Collections; Henry Broderick Papers, Acc. No. 2350-2350-2, V.F. 850, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was revised slightly on February 5, 2018.

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