The Seattle pioneer planned a namesake hotel, but it hadn’t opened by the time he died in 1899. After finally opening in 1903 to host Teddy Roosevelt, it was razed in 1906.
GATHER ’ROUND. It’s time for an old story about the commanding Arthur Denny, who, as the older of the two brothers who in 1851 first settled on Alki Point, has been generally considered the city’s founder and, sometimes, father.
Denny first named the hill at the north end of his claim Capitol Hill. When his Seattle began to fill in and out, the pioneer expected that Washington Territory’s legislators, of which he was one, would ultimately flee Olympia and relocate their capitol on his hill high above Seattle’s expanding commercial district. The move seemed a sensible expectation, but proved to be more hunch than hit.
Still, beginning in 1881, Seattle became the territory’s largest community and stayed so. That was a mere 30 years after Denny and his party of mostly Midwestern farmers with urban ambitions landed on Alki Point.
Denny’s friends and fellow champions were just as pleased to name his hill for him. He was famously sober and steadfast, and demonstrably modest, with the exception of his name, which he enjoyed attaching to real estate. Consequently, in 1888, ambitious friends convinced him to trade his political hopes for his hill into proprietary ones, while changing the hill’s name from Capitol to Denny.
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On March 20, 1889, less than three months before the city’s Great Fire of June 6, Denny announced his plan to build a grand namesake hotel on his hill. In place of a capitol building, he would settle for a Victorian landmark with 400 beds, 100 more than the Tacoma Hotel.
In our “Then” photo, the Denny Hotel is recorded by a Webster and Stevens Studio photographer looking southwest from the northeast corner of Virginia Street and Fourth Avenue. (Printed from a large glass negative, the photo is in the keep of the Museum of History & Industry.) The year is 1903, 14 years after construction began, and in this photo, the hotel was not yet finished. A combination of infighting among the investors, the size and expense of the place, and the 1893 economic crash with the doldrums that followed turned the grand hotel into, according to the local press, a “ghost palace,” “white elephant” or “unsightly mass.”
Still empty, the hotel was being polished…