AKA: Four Seasons Hotels, Limited, Olympic Four Seasons Hotel, Downtown, Seattle, WA; Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - dwellings -public accommodations - hotels

Designers: Bebb and Gould, Architects (firm); Naramore, Bain, Brady, and Johanson, (NBBJ) (firm); Post, George B., and Sons, Architects (firm); Reamer, Robert C., Architect (firm); William James Bain Jr. (architect); Charles Herbert Bebb ; Clifton J. Brady (architect); Carl Freylinghausen Gould Sr. (architect); Perry Bertil Johanson (architect); Floyd Archibald Naramore (architect); Robert C. Olsen (building contractor); George Browne Post (architect); James Otis Post (architect); William Stone Post (architect); Robert Chambers Reamer (architect)

Dates: constructed 1923-1924

12 stories, total floor area: 542,305 sq. ft.

view all images ( of 2 shown)

411 University Street
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98101-2519

OpenStreetMap (new tab)
Google Map (new tab)
click to view google map
Google Streetview (new tab)
click to view google map
Located between Fourth & Fifth Avenue, and University Street and Seneca Street.

Building History

The Olympic Hotel property was and continues to be owned by the University of Washington (UW) and was first leased to a public entity called the "Community Hotel Corporation" in 1922. George B. Post and Sons, a long-established architectural firm in New York, NY, designed this long-awaited, large-scale "businessman's hotel" collaborating with building contractors, Stone and Webster, the huge Boston, MA-based construction firm, during 1923-1924. George Post (b. 1837) had died in 1913, and his two sons, James Otis (b. 1873) and William S. Post (c. 1866-1940), continued the practice. James Otis Post took the lead, overseeing the design of the Olympic; the Posts collaborated with the Seattle firm of Bebb and Gould, who supervised construction. The Posts created a grand design based on those of Italian Renaissance palazzi. A modern steel and reinforced concrete frame was clad by marble on the first two floors and brick on the upper stories. Its first guest, the lumber tycoon, Albert S. Kerry (b. 1866), who served as President of the Community Hotel Corporation, registered with his wife on 12/06/1924.

The Olympic stood on property once part of the University of Washington's first campus, on the block bounded by University Street on the north, 4th Avenue on the west, Seneca Street on the south, and 5th Avenue on the east. In the 1910s, two temporary commercial buildings--the Neyhart Building and the Otis Building, along with the temporary College Club #1 and the Women's University Club, were built on the block. The most significant, "permanent" building erected on this parcel was the Metropolitan Theatre, which occupied the block's middle section facing University Street. To construct the Olympic Hotel, all four of the temporary buildings were demolished in 04/1923. (Demolition bids were solicited in 03/1923, and demolition companies given a deadline of 05/15/1923 to complete the job.) The U-shaped Olympic Hotel was originally fashioned around the Metropolitan Theatre.

The Community Hotel Corporation operated the business until late 1933, when the Depression eroded its revenues, forcing the company into receivership. Two years later, new owners took over, a group chartered in Delaware called the "The Olympic, Incorporated," who controlled the property until 1943, when William Edris took over the company. Edris ran the hotel for 12 years, selling his lease to the hometown "Seattle Olympic Hotel Company," a subsidiary of Western Hotels (led by the charismatic Eddie Carlson [1911-1990]) in 1955. The lease to Western Hotels (which merged with United Airlines on 08/01/1970) ended in 1974. Soon after Western Hotels purchased the lease from William Edris, the theatre was torn down in 1956, and the Grand Ballroom was built on some of the newly opened land.

Building Notes

The Olympic's front elevation, a enlarged Italian palazzo, had many elements in common with other large urban hotels of the 1920s. Many of these had a U-shape, to maximize natural light and ventilation into the most rooms. In the case of the Olympic, this U-shaped room block rested on top of a two-story plinth. The second story of the plinth, or piano nobile, housed banquet spaces and other common rooms, whose interiors were lit by a series of arched windows. The facade of the Neil House in Columbus, OH, for example, built the same year (1924), had this plan typology and fenestration in common with the Olympic.

Originally, the hotel had 240-foot street frontages on 4th and 5th Avenues, 165 feet on University Street and 250 feet on Seneca Street. In 1928, the Stolle Drug Company, among other small businesses,, operated a store in the Olympic Hotel; the ground floor accommodated 15,000 square feet of retail space. In 1950, the Olympic contained 866 guest rooms. At this time, it had a prestigious array of rooms for dining and meetings: the Georgian Room (for dining), Spanish Ballroom (banquets), Marine Room (cocktail lounge) and the Olympic Bowl, (dancing).

The hotel and the Rainier Plaza across the street, also owned by UW, are listed by the King County Assessor under the same parcel number; these two properties had an assessed value of $248,236,000. The two covered 147,500 square feet (3.39 acres).

Alterations

The building of the Olympic occurred in three stages: George Post and Sons and Bebb and Gould finished the Fourth Avenue and Seneca Street sections in 1922-1924; Robert C. Reamer completed the Fifth Avenue wing in 1928-1929, and Reamer also finished the penthouse floor in 1930. The Olympic has been remodeled extensively over its life-span. Central air-conditioning was added in 1966. The Four Seasons Hotels chain renovated it from 10/1980 until the fall of 1982, during which time the Olympic was closed. The Seattle Times described the changes that would be made: "Reduction of guest rooms from 760 to about 450; removal of the skybridge over Seneca Street (added in 1964) which links the mezzanine with the garage, and creation of a brand new entry and atrium lounge facing University Street. The entry will have Georgian columns, arched windows and other features complementing the hotel design. It will replace the Grand Ballroom which was built there when the Metropolitan Theater was torn down in 1956. The hotel was erected around the 1911 theater and never has had its main entry facing University Street." (See Polly Lane, "The new Olympic," Seattle Times, 08/17/1980, p. 131.) Previously, the main entry was oriented in the middle of the block on the Seneca Street side. The Seattle architecture firm, Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson (NBBJ), was responsible for this 1980-1982 renovation.