New Richmond Hotel (Seattle)

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 12/09/2013
  • Essay 10650

The New Richmond Hotel opened in Seattle across from the city's two railroad stations in 1911. Designed by Seattle architects Augustus Warren Gould (1872-1922) and Edouard Champney (1874-1929), it was an impressive nine-story hotel in Neoclassical Revival style. The hotel was modern, with 75 percent of the rooms having a bath or shower. The U.S. Army took over the building in World War II to use as a hospital. After the war it returned to service as a hotel. By the 1960s decline had set in, with crime all too common. In 1971 the hotel was converted to low-income housing. Forty years later the building was rehabilitated into apartment homes and renamed the Addison on Fourth.

The Hotel Opens

Construction of a nine-story hotel on lower 4th Avenue started on April 8, 1910. Butler Contracting of Seattle began pouring the concrete frame on April 27. At the end of August, the terra cotta facing was attached to the concrete and one week later the roof was poured. The hotel opened in January 1911. It was across from the two Seattle railroad stations, King Street Station and Union Station. Robert C. McCormick (1852-1921) and his wife Brownie W. McCormick (1876-1971) were the owners. Robert McCormick was a successful Seattle real estate developer. He hired prominent Seattle architects Augustus Warren Gould and Edouard Champney as architects. They designed the building as a concrete frame with terra cotta facing in a Neoclassical Revival style. The hotel had 325 rooms and 75 percent of them had baths or showers. The remaining rooms had wash basins with hot and cold running water. The hotel was advertised as fireproof and modern. Amenities included men's and women's billiard rooms. The large lobby was impressive, with Alaska marble and mahogany walls. The lobby had a 27-foot ceiling with art glass. At the time it was the tallest structure in the neighborhood and today retains that distinction. McCormick named it after his birthplace: New Richmond, Quebec.

An early newsworthy event occurred on May 1, 1914, when owner Robert McCormick fired a pistol in his hotel. He was shooting at his father-in-law, G. J. Williams, who was in a room on the eighth floor. McCormick fired three bullets through the room door but did not hit Williams. When police arrived and demanded he surrender his pistol, McCormick refused. It took four policemen to overcome McCormick and during the struggle a fourth bullet fired. In court, McCormick's lawyer pleaded him guilty to discharging a firearm within the city limits. He received a light sentence of a $100 fine.

In 1921 the New Richmond advertised that it had 100 rooms without bath for $1.00 a night, 100 rooms with bath for $1.50, and 150 double rooms with bath for $2.00. Every room had exterior windows for a sunny stay. Women and children were welcome and "always safe" ("No! No! No!"). Weekly and monthly rates were advertised with permanent guests' rent at $5.00 a week, and the hotel transferred permanent guests' baggage free of charge. Throughout its history, the hotel had many permanent residents. Reflecting common prejudices of the time, the advertising boasted that the hotel was "All American owned" and "employs white help only" ("No! No! No!"). This was to distinguish it from nearby hotels in the International District.

The New Richmond was also the location of conventions and meetings. Following World War I, the Devil Dogs, a Marine Corps veterans group, had regular meetings in room 218, a second-floor conference room. In 1922 the American Poultry Association held its 46th Annual Convention there. The Tennessee delegation to the Knights Templar July 1925 national convention in Seattle stayed at the New Richmond. A number of Seattle teachers resided there between the wars. In 1930 the Sun Beem Neon Corporation of Seattle installed an impressive long vertical "blade" sign reading "New Richmond Hotel" on the front fa├žade between the second and fourth floors.

In 1940 a new coffee shop and banquet rooms were built as part of a $100,000 remodel. Seattle architect Bjarne Moe (1904-1980) designed the coffee shop in what was called a bohemian ultra-modern design. It had colorful decorations and special lighting effects. When the remodeled hotel opened in June 1940, 100 of the guests were long-term residents who rented on a monthly basis. There were also a number of Boeing employees as temporary guests. Boeing was hiring and the hotel was near its Seattle operations. The coffee shop became a social center, with long-term residents and temporary guests meeting there to drink coffee and talk.

Conversion to World War II Hospital

On February 2, 1943, the U.S. Army notified tenants that they would have to move by March 1 when the army would take over the hotel. Already, the nearby Frye Hotel had been taken over as housing for Army Air Force personnel. The notices to vacate were a sad occasion for many of the permanent residents, some of whom had lived there as long as 20 years. Residents spoke well of the hotel, noting its pleasant atmosphere, hotel friends of many years, and convenient location. Harry A. Loddick (1879-1955), who had lived there 18 years, moved into a room in a house and found it too quiet. After the war he found an apartment on Lower Queen Anne that was just right, with noise and activity.

On March 1, 1943, the army took over the hotel, converting it to a Seattle Port of Embarkation hospital. Army Corps of Engineers reconstruction was completed in June 1943 and the facility was named the Seattle Area Station Hospital. The hotel lobby became the mess hall and the marble-walled banquet room was converted into a kitchen. The three-year-old coffee shop became a food-preparation area. On the second floor, guest rooms were converted to operating rooms, an X-ray facility, offices, and a few wards. The rooms on the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth floors became ward rooms with three beds in each room. Floors seven, eight, and nine served as staff housing.

The hospital was intended as a clearing house for wounded from the Alaska Aleutian campaigns. Patients would receive treatment and then be transferred to military hospitals around the nation. Recuperating patients would often be sent to hospitals near their homes so families could easily visit. On June 30, 1944, the army returned the building to its owners, Brownie McCormick and her daughter Eleanor Muntz (1913-1979). They had previously been notified of the return and had ordered new furnishings. The government paid the owners rent for the time of military use.

Postwar Years and Changes

Brownie McCormick and family members owned the hotel until October 1949. They then sold it to the Continental Hotel System, a 42-hotel chain. The Continental made some improvements, including a new cocktail lounge. An exterior change was made in 1949 after a powerful earthquake -- the hotel's balustrade parapet was removed for safety reasons.

By the 1960s, decline had set in and the hotel had become a police problem. There were arrests for prostitution, robberies, lewdness, and liquor violations. In 1964 the military declared it off-limits for military personnel. In October 1964, Eldridge Shelby (1921-1974), the hotel recreation-room operator, stabbed to death Claude Williams (1925-1964), a hotel cook, bringing yet more bad publicity. Shelby went to prison and upon his release became a homicide victim himself. With so many issues, abatement proceedings were initiated in 1964 to shut down the hotel, but were dismissed in 1965. The hotel owners promised to clean it up. They closed to renovate the building. Following the renovations, which included painting the terra cotta exterior, the hotel reopened in 1966 as the Downtown Hotel Apartments. When Boeing hired 500 new out-of-town employees, a number of the employees at the Boeing Field Flight Test Center moved into the Downtown. Boeing ran a bus from Boeing Field to the Downtown, making it especially convenient. There were also rooms occupied by transients.

Excellent Example of Reuse

In 1970 Seattle developer Martin Selig (b. 1927) purchased the hotel and converted it to Federal Housing Authority-financed low-income apartments. The building's 325 rooms were rehabilitated into 240 apartments and it was renamed the Downtowner Apartments. In 2012 the Goodman Real Estate Company purchased the building and launched major renovations to convert it to apartment homes, artist lofts, and musician studios. Its new name became the Addison on Fourth. The building now had 254 units. Among the improvements was a solar hot-water system on the roof. This pipe system allowed the sun to preheat water that was sent to gas boilers that further heated it for use in apartment radiators. In 2013, additional renovations were underway to create new business space on the street level.

The New Richmond Hotel has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a significant historic building. It is a fine example of period architecture and the work of two noted Seattle architects, Champney and Gould. The former hotel is the best surviving project of the short partnership of the two architects.

Sources: "Clark Design Group," TrustNews (Washington Trust for Historic Preservation), January 2013, p. 12; "New McCormick Hotel on Fourth Avenue South," The Seattle Times, September 10, 1910, p. 43; "Prosecution Easy on R. C. McCormick, Ibid., May 11, 1914, p. 8; "Yardmasters End Their Work In Seattle," Ibid., June 20, 1915, p. 9; "No! No! No! Our Rates Are Not High -- The New Richmond Hotel" (advertisement), Ibid., December 3, 1921, p. 2; "New Richmond Hotel Opens Coffee Shop," Ibid., June 22, 1940, p. 10; "New Richmond Hotel Is Taken Over by Army," Ibid., February 3, 1943, p. 24; "Civilians Ousted from Hotel Find Homes but Miss Noise," Ibid., May 5, 1943, p. 2; "New Richmond Hotel, Army Hospital Receives First Patients: Attu Wounded Decorated," Ibid., July 15, 1943, p. 12; "Army Returning Hotel to Owners," Ibid., June 30, 1944, p. 13; "$15,538 Paid on New Richmond," Ibid., July 4, 1944, p. 11; "New Richmond Hotel Is Sold," Ibid., October 15, 1949, p. 12; "Hotel, Respectable Again, Aids in Crisis," Ibid., July 24, 1966, p. 49.

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