On February 22, 1925, up to 12,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Eagles gather in Seattle for the ceremony marking the placing of the cornerstone for the grand new lodge of Seattle Aerie No. 1. The Eagles, a fraternal benevolent society, was founded in Seattle in 1898, and the local aerie is known as the Mother Chapter of the organization. The new lodge, located at 7th Avenue and Union Street, is a six-story, steel and concrete structure that is notable for its extensive use of architectural terra cotta. Among those on hand to officiate are Washington Governor Roland H. Hartley (1862-1954) and Otto P. Deluse (1878?- 1935), Grand Worthy President of the national fraternal order.
The Mother of All Aeries
On February 6, 1898, six men, owners and managers of some of Seattle's leading theaters, took a stroll together to discuss how they should handle an ongoing musicians' strike. John Cort (1861-1921), brothers John W. Considine (1868-1943) and Thomas J. Considine (1857-1933), H. L. Leavitt (d. 1937), Mose Goldsmith, and Arthur G. Williams ambled down the city's tideflats until they reached the foot of S Charles Street and the Moran Brothers' shipyard, where they sat on some stacked lumber to hash things out. According to most popular accounts, after deciding to work together to settle the strike, the men began musing about democracy and brotherhood. Then and there, they decided to start the "Seattle Order of Good Things" to carry out the spirit of their ideas.
The men met again to draft a constitution and take additional steps to formalize their plan. Perhaps realizing that "good things" might be a tad too broad and subjective, they decided a more serious name was needed. Although the place of this second meeting is not recorded, most accounts agree that John Cort, noticing a picture of a bald eagle on the wall, was inspired to suggest that the organization be called the "Fraternal Order of Eagles." And so it was.
The order was dedicated to "The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man," and the constitution the six men wrote called on its members to "make human life more desirable by lessening its ills and promoting peace, prosperity, gladness, and hope" ("Eagles Auditorium Building"). (In an incident both tragic and ironic, the Considine brothers just three years later were involved in a violent altercation that ended with the shooting death of Seattle Police Chief William M. Meredith [1869-1901]. Only John was brought to trial, and he was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.)
The official charter for the Grand Aerie, Fraternal Order of Eagles was issued by the State of Washington on March 12, 1898. Within 15 days, the second aerie was started in Spokane. In Seattle, formal meetings were at first held in various theaters, and following the finish of business the all-male group would often roll out a keg of beer and socialize for a few hours. Early membership was made up largely of theater folk -- actors, stagehands, and playwrights -- and as many of them traveled the theater circuit, both in and out of state, they recruited others to the Eagles. Its growth was phenomenal; within a year, Seattle and Spokane were joined by 18 additional aeries in the Northwest, Northern California, and British Columbia, and membership had ballooned to more than 3,000. By the end of 1901, there were 180 aeries in the U.S. and Canada, and one as far away as Hawaii. Within 10 years, there were 1,800 aeries in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, with an astounding 350,000 members.
The Eagles organization had much more to offer its members than merely beer and an uplifting message. As the National Register of Historic Places notes:
"Members received free medical attention (as did the individual's family), weekly payments in case of sickness and a funeral benefit -- all valuable services before the widespread availability of medical, disability and life insurance. More importantly, they formed a powerful voice that advocated various types of reform that would benefit the average working person" ("Eagles Auditorium Building").
The First Eagles' Hall
The Eagles soon found a home in rented space at Seattle's Masonic Temple at 2nd Avenue and Pike Street in downtown Seattle, but with a rapidly growing, dues-paying membership, a permanent home was both needed and affordable. On September 30, 1903, a permit was issued to Eagles by the City for construction of a new hall uptown at 7th Avenue and Pine Street.
The building was designed by Seattle architects Jame Eustace Blackwell (1855-1939) and Robert L. Robertson and built by Seattle contractor William Noonan & Company. With two stories and nearly 16,000 total square feet, its cost was $24,000. The first floor was retail space, with large display windows along the front façade and an arched and columned entryway dead center. The second story featured eight arched windows across the front. The center-front of the building was topped by a pediment, itself capped with a sculptured eagle, wings outspread. The name "Eagles' Hall" appeared on the façade below the pediment and on a sign above the first floor that jutted out over the building's entrance.
The new hall opened with little fanfare in March 1904, and would serve the organization for more than 20 years. It was also used for meetings by other fraternal organizations, including Woodmen of the World. When it came time to replace this original nest, the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 1, the Mother Chapter that started it all, would spare no expense.
Big Plans Afoot
By the early 1920s it was becoming clear that the Seattle group, the largest Eagle aerie in the world, needed a grander home. Chapters in other cities had built halls that outshone the Seattle Eagles' original home, and this was deemed intolerable. On May 14, 1921, Seattle Aerie No. 1 purchased Dreamland, an auditorium at 7th Avenue and Union Street that had started life as a roller-skating rink in 1907 but later converted to a dance hall, one that hosted many labor-union gatherings and parties. The Eagles paid approximately $75,000 for the property, renamed it "Eagles' Auditorium," and, while still using the original Eagles' Hall at 7th Avenue and Pine Street, held larger events at the new location. But there were bigger plans in the works, and they weren't long in coming
On January 16, 1924, the Seattle Eagles ran an advertisement in The Seattle Daily Times calling upon all members to meet to "discuss and deliberate upon the proposed plans for the Eagles' $1,000,000 new home designed to be erected at once at 7th Avenue and Union Street" ("Attention Eagles!"). By July 14 of that year, a church located on the new property was being razed, and the destruction of Dreamland was set for one week hence.
As is often the case, things did not go quite as quickly or smoothly as planned. When members showed up more than two weeks later, on July 31, for a ceremonial groundbreaking, they found that a steam shovel was already at the site, and it was breaking considerable ground without any ceremony at all. Nonetheless, an undaunted Mrs. J. M. Hooper, wife of the Seattle aerie's Worthy President, gamely pulled a board off the old Dreamland dance hall to the cheers of the assembled. In truth, Dreamland had a final act before disappearing from the face of the city forever -- the following night, Saturday, August 2, 1924, it would be home to one final dance. After that, it was history.
The Eagles had the property and plans, and now needed the money to complete their lavish new home. On November 28, 1924, Seattle Aerie No. 1 kicked off a fundraising drive with a large ad in The Seattle Times. Discounted initiation fees of $5 were offered, with a goal of enlisting 30,000 new members. The ad copy proclaimed:
"Under the spreading wings of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, 15,575 members in Seattle enjoy Health, Happiness and Prosperity for themselves and families through the protection of the Mother Aerie"
"Several big Eastern aeries are crowding us for first place.
"We want Seattle to have the honor of having the largest Fraternal Organization in the world.
"We want the Eagles to raise the best Fraternal Building in the West, and want every white male citizen of good character in Seattle to own an interest in this building" ("Join the Eagles Now").
It was the intent of the organization to pay for its new headquarters with membership dues, other fees and donations, proceeds from the sale of the first Eagles' Hall, and cash on hand. New memberships were aggressively solicited, including in a full page advertisement in The Seattle Times on February 17, 1925, just eight days before the cornerstone ceremony. That ad claimed that there were already "10,000 IN LINE FOR CORNER-STONE PARADE," and included a list of "Why You Should Join," which included such benefits as safe deposit boxes, free medical attention for members and families, and "equality for all" ("10,000 in Line for Corner-Stone Parade"). "All," of course, at that time, meant only white male citizens.
The big day finally came, and on February 22, 1925, approximately 12,000 members of the Fraternal Brotherhood of Eagles, together with hundreds of onlookers, were on hand for the cornerstone ceremony. As described in a newspaper of the day:
"To the music of eight bands, the parade moved through downtown streets until it came to a stop in front of the half-completed edifice at Seventh Avenue and Union Street. By the time the last sections in line arrived at the new temple, the streets directly in front were crowded to the limit, while the crowd overflowed in each direction from the temple on the streets bordering it" ("Dream of Eagles Realized").
Speeches were made, crowds cheered, and the moment came. A copper box containing the organization's first meeting minutes from 1898, a history of the lodge, a list of its present officers, and a roll containing the names of all who had subscribed to the building fund was placed in a niche. The Seattle Aerie's Worthy President, J. M. Hooper, then introduced Otto P. Deluse (1878?-1935), Grand Worthy President of the national fraternal order, handing him a silver trowel with which to mortar the ceremonial cornerstone. The Seattle Aerie's longtime secretary, Frank Dowd, helped Deluse lift the stone into place, and the deed was done.
A Magnificent New Home
A full-page spread in The Seattle Times on July 14, 1925, heralded in bold capital letters, "MILLION-DOLLAR HOME READY FOR HOUSEWARMING," and announced that an informal ceremony two days hence would mark the occasion. The new building stood six stories high, was made of steel-reinforced concrete, and its two street-side facades were sheathed in beige, blue-flecked terra cotta, perhaps the most generous use of that elegant material in Seattle to date. Its design was described as "a modification of Italian Renaissance, sufficiently ornamented to add to its beauty without being ostentatious" ("Million-Dollar Home Ready for Housewarming"). The temple's footprint took up a full quarter block on the northeast corner of 7th Avenue and Union Street, and each floor had approximately 21,000 square feet of usable space.
The building had both commercial and fraternal aspects. The top four floors held 81 two- and three-bedroom apartments, served by elevators near the Union Street entrance. On the mezzanine level were parlors for the wives of members (the organization had no women's auxiliaries until 1927), a lounge and library for the men, and restrooms and checkrooms.
The second floor was the main club area, where the ballroom and auditorium were situated, accessed by ramps rather than stairs. At the head of each ramp was a foyer, and off each foyer, an anteroom. The main ballroom was 60 by 100 feet, with a wrap-around balcony and open promenades along two sides. The auditorium had a stage, and could accommodate an audience of approximately 4,000. The new temple's first floor housed the organization's offices, storage areas, and the lodge room of Seattle Aerie No. 1, Fraternal Order of Eagles. Eventually, much of the first floor fronting both 7th Avenue and Union Street would be leased out for commercial purposes.
The architect for the project was Henry W. Bittman (1882-1953) of Seattle, who also designed several of the city's other notable structures, among them the Terminal Sales Building, the Troy Laundry Building at South Lake Union, and the massive, stone King County Courthouse that is still in use today (2012). The general contractor was the Sound Construction and Engineering Company, and the extensive ornamental plastering was performed by C. H. Nelson and Son, who also did the state capitol building in Olympia.
A Long Tenure
Formally the Eagles' Temple Building, but also called over the years Eagles' Hall and Eagles' Auditorium (sometimes with the possessive apostrophe and sometimes without), the lovely edifice at 7th and Union served as the Eagles' local branch headquarters for much of the eventful twentieth century. The ballroom and auditorium were always available to rent for occasions of all types including, during the 1960s and 1970s, rock concerts and other counterculture events. By the early 1990s the Eagles were all gone, and much lesser birds, urban pigeons, fluttered through the abandoned ballroom and auditorium. But the steel-reinforced building remained structurally sound, and its exemplary use of architectural terra cotta gave it historical weight.
The Seattle City Council pledged $3 million in city funds toward preservation of Eagles Auditorium and the Paramount Theatre in August 1993. A Contemporary Theatre (ACT), founded in 1965, moved into Eagles Auditorium following a $30-million update and reconfiguration of the space, where it remains to this day. Substantial contributions for the auditorium's renovation came from the Kreielsheimer Foundation, and the space is now known as Kreielsheimer Place. Other major support came from The Boeing Co., The Allen Foundation, Microsoft Corporation, the William H. Gates Foundation, SAFECO Insurance, Priscilla "Patsy" Collins, and the Kresge Foundation, along with public funds from the City of Seattle, King County and the state.
As for the Fraternal Order of Eagles, it remains a thriving organization today, with membership exceeding 850,000 in more than 1,400 Aeries in the U.S. and Canada. Women's Eagle auxiliaries total more than 1,300, with more than 250,000 members. Over the years, the order has taken credit for the creation of Mothers Day (an honor that it must share with others) and, less plausibly, claims to have been the driving force behind the establishment of Social Security. It is undisputed that the Fraternal Order of Eagles has been a generous supporter of multiple charitable causes for well more than a century, and has fully lived up to its motto -- "People Helping People." And it all started on a pile of lumber in a Seattle shipyard.