About 1889 a recent German immigrant named Alfred Lueben arrived in Seattle along with his wife, Sabine (1855-1920), daughter Lillian (1886-1967), and first son, Alfred (1887-1934). Over the next four decades he would establish himself as a music teacher, church organist, choir conductor, director of his own concert band (the Lueben Orchester), retailer, and as a prominent Seattle citizen who helped lead the local German community.
As early as 1884, Seattle’s very well organized German community formed a Liederkranz ("wreath of song") singing society in order to preserve its musical traditions, promote good fellowship, and keep the “old country” culture alive. In 1886 a Germanic arts organization, the Turnverein, constructed its own venue, the Turn-Halle (“Turner Hall”) at the southwest corner of 4th Avenue and Jefferson Street in downtown Seattle. Then, just prior to the Great Fire of 1889, Alfred Lueben along with his wife, Sabine, daughter Lillian, and first son, Alfred, arrived via San Francisco. Lueben was soon leading the Lueben Orchester in shows and dances at the Turn-Halle.
By 1890 Professor Lueben had set up as a music instructor in a space at 1323 2nd Avenue and by 1895 he had partnered with a violinist, Professor J. F. Langer. Their Langer & Lueben's Band joined Seattle’s Zither Club and the Arion Singing Society in presenting a show at the Halle on July 23 -- just as they would again in 1896 with Lueben's young daughter Lilly (b. 1886) playing in a violin trio, the Seattle Liederkranz, and the Turner Singing Society. It can fairly well be presumed that in 1902 Lueben also played some role in organizing the Northwest's first of many Sängerfests (German song festivals) that brought choirs to Seattle from Portland, Spokane, Tacoma, Bellingham, and Everett.
By the turn of the century the Luebens had expanded their business activities: By 1901 the city business directory featured separate listings for “The Lueben Band” and for “Alfred Lueben, Music Teacher” (717 Yesler Way). By 1902 they'd moved to 109 Yesler and by 1904 Sabina was listed both as Music Teacher and Provider of Masquerade Costumes. By 1906 she’d focused as a Costumer, and by 1909 they’d launched the Pioneer Costumes company at 1425 7th Avenue.
Years later, the Seattle Star newspaper noted how that business got its start: It seems that a theatrical production of the “Merry War” flopped in its Turner Hall engagement and the Luebens stepped in by purchasing all the stage costumes. By 1908 they’d renamed their enterprise the Alfred Lueben Co. / Masquerade and Theatrical Co.
As one of Seattle’s most prominent citizens, Alfred Lueben was featured in a locally published 1906 book titled Men Behind the Seattle Spirit. When planning began for Seattle’s first world’s fair -- the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition -- he was the perfect guy to help organize the musical entertainment that would be performed for fairgoers on German Day, August 18, 1909.
In fact, even before the A-Y-P Exposition opened on June 1st, the local German community was feeling quite festive: On April 25th Lueben directed his Seattle Liederkranz in a “Grosses Konzert, Oper und Ball” at Turn-Halle (now located at 1819 8th Avenue and Olive Street) and another “Grand Concert, Opera & Ball” was held at Tacoma's Germania Hall (S 13th Street and E Street) on May 16th. When August 18th, German Day, arrived, the various Germanic celebratory activities included singing contests by the Turnverein and Liederkranz choruses, and orchestral performances (conducted by Lueben) at the Exposition Auditorium.
Carrying the torch
At some time about 1910 the Luebens Costumes Co. set up shop in the Clemmer Theater building (1418 2nd Avenue), where it rented and sold costumes to shows at the Cort and Cordray theaters. By 1918 the Lueben Costuming Co. had settled into a shop in the Hadden Hall Building (at 1923 3rd Avenue) at the back of the Moore Theater and it began renting tuxedos and dress suits as well. Lueben and his son Alfred ran the store for many years. The other son, Rudolph (1891-1951) became a lawyer.
Throughout all those years, the old bandleader never gave up music. He devoted many years to directing the Metropolitan Theatre Orchestra (the theater was located at 4th Avenue and University Street).
On a day following a concert there in 1932, Alfred Lueben took ill and was admitted to Providence Hospital. He passed away two weeks later on December 19, 1932. He was buried at Washelli Cemetery.
Lueben’s love of German culture lives on through organizations like the Seattle German Heritage Society and the Verein Arion, a German singing group founded on October 13, 1910, at the Arion Hall in Henry Yesler’s Pioneer Building (NE corner of 1st Avenue and James Street). The Verein Arion still carries the torch to this day.