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); Stone and Webster, Incorporated (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); Charles Augustus Stone Sr. (electrical engineer); Edwin Sibley Webster (electrical engineer)

Dates: constructed 1923-1924

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

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411 University Street
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98101-2519

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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.

Construction on the hotel began in 04/1923 and continued until its public grand opening in 12/1924. To finance the hotel, the city's wealthier citizens purchased 3,000 bonds. This public-financing underscored how important this first-class hotel was to business and political leaders. It demonstrated the city's maturity and comparability to other emerging urban centers in the US and could help to attract well-heeled tourists and new residents.

The Community Hotel Corporation operated the business until late 1933, when the Depression eroded its revenues, forcing the company into receivership. In 1933, Frank W. Hull was the Olympic's manager. 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, incorporated, (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).

W.P. Taylor, Jr., served as the Olympic Hotel's Manager in 1925. (See R.L. Polk and Company'sSeattle, Washington, City Directory, 1925, p.1149.) Frank W. Hull was its manager between 1933 and 1935, at least. (See R.L. Polk and Company'sSeattle, Washington, City Directory, 1933, p. 1239 andSeattle, Washington, City Directory, 1935, p. 1555.)


The building of the Olympic occurred in four stages: George Post and Sons and Bebb and Gould finished the 4th Avenue and Seneca Street sections in 1922-1924.

Seattle archtiect Robert C. Reamer (1873-1938) completed the 5h Avenue wing in 1928-1929, and Reamer also finished the penthouse floor in 1930. The Metropolitan Theatre was closed in 1954 and razed during the first half of 1956 to make way for a central addition to the hotel erected during 1956 and 1957. This $1,500,000, addition, erected for the Western Hotels, Incorporated.

In its issue of 07/15/1956, the Seattle Daily Times described the 1956-1957 addition and a request by Western Hotels to extend its lease for another ten years: "The University of Washington Board of Regents yesterday deferred action on a request by Western Hotels, Inc., for a ten-year extension of its Olympic Hotel lease. the regents disclosed that Western requested the extension to amortize additional expenditures in construction of a drive-in entrance on University Street, a grand ballroom and other improvements. The lease now in force will expire October 31, 1974. Under lease terms, Western is required to spend $500,000 in major improvements. the proposed improvements will cost $1,500,000. Western has offered to increase the university's guaranteed minimum rental from $400,000 to $450,000 a year for the extended period. The ballroom, designed to attract major conventions to Seattle, will be built over the drive-in entrance on the site of the Metropolitan Theater, which has been demolished. The hall will have theater seating for 1,400 persons and banquet seating for 1,000 persons. It will have a permanent stage and a connection to the Spanish ballroom, Western also plans to build a specialty restaurant and cocktail lounge adjacent to the drive-in entrance. The Olympic Grill will be remodeled and redecorated. A small cocktail lounge will be built near the entrance to the new ballroom. A service entrance will be construced under the drive-in plaza. Construction of the service area, drive-in entrance and ballroom is scheduled to be completed next summer." (See "Regents Study Extension of Hotel Lease," Seattle Daily Times, 1956-07-15, p. 21.)

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. William J. Bain, Jr., (1930-2019), was active in this two-year restoration effort.