Arctic Building (Seattle)

  • By Dotty DeCoster
  • Posted 10/21/2010
  • Essay 9462
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The Arctic Building, now the Arctic Club Hotel, occupies the northeast corner of 3rd Avenue and Cherry Street in downtown Seattle. It was designed by Augustus Warren Gould (1872-1922), working with George W. Lawton (1864-1928), and built in 1916 after the Arctic Club signed a long-term lease with building owner James Moses (1847-1920) the previous year. The nine-story building remained home to the Arctic Club until 1971. The Arctic Building is a City of Seattle landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Arctic Club Hotel is a National Trust Historic Hotel.

The One with the Walrus Tusks

Most Seattleites identify this building as "the one with the walrus tusks" because of the walrus-head cartouches visible on the building’s third level. When the building opened in 1917, however, it was the polychrome terra cotta facades that captured attention: the Arctic Building was the first downtown building to use exterior color in terra cotta.

Originally part of the claim of Seattle pioneer Carson Boren (1824-1912), the corner of 3rd Avenue and Cherry Street was the site of a fine house built about 1875 for Judge Joseph R. Lewis, chief justice of Washington Territory and a direct descendant of Betty Washington, George Washington’s sister. The house was torn down in 1892 and replaced by the Seattle Theatre, a 1,300-seat house adjacent to the Rainier Club. Owner James Moses had both buildings razed in 1916 to make way for construction of a new building that would house the Arctic Club. Moses had signed a long-term lease with the Arctic Club on October 29, 1915.

Architects for both parties (George W. Lawton, the Club’s consulting architect, and Augustus Warren Gould, architect for the owner) designed the building, the internal spaces, and the decorations with an Arctic theme. Gould described the building’s design as "a radical departure from the conventional, inasmuch as no definite style of architecture or any particular period has been adhered to" (Pacific Builder and Engineer, p. 13).

James Moses and the Pottery Connection

Although the Arctic Club owed its existence to the lively trade between Seattle and Alaska, the building was financed by pottery. James Moses emigrated from Ireland to Trenton, New Jersey, in 1864, joining his older brother John in the pottery business. He bought the Mercer Pottery Company in 1873 and made a fortune with a new line of Mercer china created in time for the 1876 Centennial. He built a mansion in what is now Trenton’s North Clinton area that has been described as "a fantasy of stone and slate with highly picturesque roofline" (North Ward) and has served as a Scottish Rite Temple for decades. Mercer Pottery Company survived in Trenton until about 1937 and was best known for its semi-porcelain tableware. 

Moses lived in New York City from about 1885 and made his summer home at Spring Lake Beach, New Jersey. He and his wife, Mary White MacDonald, had three daughters: Ethel, who married Charles Merrill, Jr. (of Maynard, Merrill & Co, publishers) in 1901; Laura, who married Willard Brinton in 1920; and Vera, who married Edward Chamberlain in 1909. Charles Merrill and Laura Brinton were the heirs who signed the Arctic Club lease renewal in 1931. James Moses is buried in Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, New Jersey, with a boulder for his gravestone.

Seattle Contractors and Craftmen

The nine-story Arctic Building was designed by one of Seattle's leading architects, Augustus Warren Gould, working with George W. Lawton, himself a prominent architect. Except for interior finishes for the club rooms, the Arctic Building was built entirely by Seattle professionals. John L. Hall was structural engineer; Hans Pederson, general contractor; Denny-Renton Clay & Coal Co., terra cotta. Sand and gravel were from Lake Sand & Gravel Co. Novelty Ornamental Iron Works supplied ornamental iron and grill work. Electrical, mechanical, and sanitary equipment were by Erwin L. Weber. Fixtures for plumbing were by J. L. Mott Iron Works, and the plumbing and vacuum cleaning systems were installed by Wenzler & Ward. The vacuum cleaning system was built by a Blaisdell Machinery Co. plant.

The kitchen received special treatment. B. B. Buell & Co. experts in kitchen arrangement were contractors for the kitchen and bake shop. Raecolith Flooring Co. supplied special flooring for the kitchen. All kitchen equipment was designed and built by Pyle & Brewer Co. Refrigeration was installed by York Construction & Supply Co. A unique faience scenic tile fireplace in the lounge was designed by Augustus Warren Gould and made by Denny-Renton Clay & Coal Co. The Parelius Manufacturing Co., of Portland, Oregon, did interior hardwood finishing in the Arctic Club quarters.

Entry to the Arctic Club itself was on Cherry Street (under the polar bear), and the entrance was finished in imitation Caen stone. Ornamental plasterwork adorned the columns and beams throughout the main club floor. The dominant feature of the club, and today of the hotel, is the main dining room -- a large room of some 60 by 60 feet surmounted by a stained glass dome. (Inevitably, the room came to be known as the "Dome Room.")  

"The ladies’ tea room, and private dining rooms are finished in harmony with the main dining room, and accordion doors are provided separating them, which can be readily pushed aside, rendering the entire space one big ball room for special occasions" (Pacific Builder and Engineer, p. 14).

Other club rooms included a lounge (with the special fireplace), a billiard room, a bowling alley, card rooms, a library, and a roof garden. The main entrance lobby to the office portion of the building was on 3rd Avenue, and it, too, was adorned with marble and decorative plaster. Portions of the upper stories were fitted as private guest rooms for Arctic Club members. Other portions of the building were originally offices. The proportion of guest rooms to offices changed often through the years.

The Arctic Club

The Arctic Building (named by its architects and owner) was the second home of the Arctic Club and the second "Arctic Building" in Seattle.

"The Arctic Club itself came about primarily through the efforts of E. A. Von Hasslocher, formerly a Ketchikan resident, and A. D. Coulter, once a Chicago newspaperman. It was they who planned the Arctic Club, starting a membership campaign late in the winter of 1907. Simultaneously, they solicited subscriptions for stock in the Arctic Construction Company, which they organized to erect a building to house the club ... .  John W. Troy, later Governor of the Territory of Alaska, had been superintendent of the old Alaska Club and became one of the most active leaders in the promotion of the Arctic Club. It . . . was  ... incorporated in the spring of 1908 ... . All of this time the Arctic Construction Company had been readying plans for the club headquarters at Third Avenue and Jefferson Street (now the Morrison Hotel) ... on October 15, 1909, the new building was occupied. It included reading, dining, and billiard rooms, a hall which served as library, buffet and assembly room, and 120 sleeping rooms ... . On the day the new building was opened [there were] 199 life members, 667 resident members, and 330 non-resident members, a total of 1,196. A year later there were more than 1,500 members” (Arctic Club 50th Anniversary).

In April 1908, the Alaska Club and the Arctic Club joined forces. To build the original Arctic Club, the organizers had developed two companies: the Arctic Construction Company, to build the building; and the Arctic Equipment Company, to furnish the building. The plan didn’t turn out well. The Arctic Equipment Company was dissolved in February 1911, but grumbling about the rates charged and services rendered by the Arctic Construction Company continued from 1910 until the club’s 1915 lease with James Moses ensured a move into a new building. The club’s rental arrangements on the new building began with a 20-year lease and continued until 1971.

The Arctic Club was primarily a social club, with members electing committees at their annual meeting. The entertainment committee put on "Smokers," an annual grand ball, and golf and bowling tournaments. Club members also participated in civic events, such as the Potlatch of 1912 and subsequent Sea-Fair activities. Although the club was organized as a gentlemen's club, ladies were accommodated from the very beginning with a space of their own in the club rooms and invitations to many events. Private events sponsored by members were also possible, and sometimes facilities were rented or made available to other groups. (In the minutes of the club dated March 15, 1911, a resolution was passed relating to "the granting of the use of a part of the Club to the Federated Women’s Clubs," which "was left in the hands of President Morris with power to act.") Members were not required to have connections to Alaska or the Arctic, but most seemed to, and many were businessmen or steamship captains who lived in Alaska or did business there. A fair amount of business was no doubt conducted at the club amid all the conviviality.

The 50th anniversary history of the club includes a story about the old Arctic Club’s bar. It seems that the bar was simply -- and quietly -- removed through a window and moved to the new Arctic Building. The president of the club knew nothing of this feat until the bar had been installed in its new home and was already in use. He promptly arranged payment to the Arctic Construction Co., thus heading off a possible lawsuit. It was noted in 1958 that

"the present liquor storeroom, which still boasts the old-fashioned wooden bar brought from the old quarters, became a mixed service bar. There were five bell-hops  ... who fought for the privilege of answering calls from private rooms. No intoxicating liquids were served by the Arctic Club during Prohibition, but members tended to congregate on the upper floors in the private rooms for some reason" (Arctic Club 50th Anniversary, 5).

In celebration of the 50th anniversary, artist Eustace Ziegler created a painting of a typical Alaskan scene, describing it:  "this is the Arctic Club -- two men and a friendly glass. For fifty years of friendship, this is how I feel about the Arctic Club." And in 1958, Sophie Tucker played the club’s Alaska Night annual dinner (Carter). On November 25, 1959, the Arctic Club reported 1,075 members.

The Arctic Building

The Arctic Building was designed to host the Arctic Club and to provide office space on the 3rd Avenue side of the building. In 1917, when the building opened, a J. G. Cigar Company store was located in the lobby. The consul of Switzerland, S. J. Wettrick, had an office in room 305; J. C. J. Kempees served as vice-consul for Holland and the Netherlands in room 817-819; and room 402 included a number of professional societies (American Chemical Society, American Institute of Electrical Engineers, American Institute of Mining Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers, Associated Engineering Societies of Seattle, Pacific Northwest Society of Engineers, and the Washington Association of Engineers), along with civil engineer Walter S. Gamble. The Chamber of Commerce and Commercial Club were located on the top floor. The Merchants Exchange of Seattle was on the third floor, along with the Northwest Grain and Feed Dealers Bureau. Endolyne Property Owners Association had offices in room 510. R. D. Pinneo was a broker with offices in 513-514.

Offices of the City of Seattle began to lease space in the Arctic Building as early as 1921 (Ordinances 41948, 42016). Additional City offices were added in 1970 and through the 1980s. The City bought the building in 1988, painting over the interior surfaces and reconfiguring the spaces with partitions, including the original Arctic Club entrance. The Dome Room was maintained as a large gathering space and was occasionally made available for rental. The City sold the building in 2006 (Ordinance 121790) to the Arctic Club Hotel LLC.

During the City’s ownership, city staff became concerned about the popular walrus heads and their tusks. In October 1996, the City took bids to repair the walrus heads -- nine were sawed off and replaced, and the balance of the 27 heads were cleaned and restored. In 1996, one of the tusks had fallen out. The City hired Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. to figure out why that had happened and how to fix it. Apparently, "in a 1982 restoration project, the original tusks had been replaced with plastic copies and bolted with stainless steel rods to a grout mixture in the heads" (Barber). Water got into the grout, cracking the terra cotta. The City found restorers, and the colorful terra cotta was restored, complete with tusks.


The Arctic Building was purchased in spring 2006 by Spokane-based developer Bill Lawson, Chris Ashenbrener, and Conover Bond Development. A major interior redevelopment was led by Candra Scott & Anderson, a San Francisco-based design firm. Burgess Weaver Design Group of Seattle oversaw structural and seismic components of the redevelopment.

Currently, the Doubletree Arctic Club Hotel is a luxurious venue just a block from Seattle’s Pioneer Square area. The original entrance to the Arctic Club and its main lounge have been restored (sadly, the polar bear has been lost), and today when visitors enter, numerous portrait photographs of former club members are there to greet them. Mouldings and other original decorations have been rescued and reused, and one can almost guess where the original ladies lounge, library, and other Arctic Club facilities might have been. A lovely fireplace is installed in the lounge -- not the original tile. The Dome Room has had an extraordinary facelift and simply glows.

The Arctic Building joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is a City of Seattle Landmark (Ordinance 116969, Dec. 13, 1993). Currently, the Doubletree Arctic Club Hotel is one of two National Trust Historic Hotels in Seattle, along with the Mayflower Park Hotel.  

Sources: Dennis A. Andersen, "Augustus Warren Gould," in Shaping Seattle Architecture ed. by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner (Seattle: University of Washington, 1994), 108-113; A. Warren Gould, "Arctic Building, New Home Arctic Club," Pacific Builder and Engineer, February 23, 1917, 13-18;  Arctic Club 50th Anniversary 1908-1958 (Seattle: The Evergreen Co., 1958); "Arctic Club Records," Record Series 2185-001, Boxes 1 and 5, Special Collections, UW Libraries, Seattle; City of Seattle, City Clerk’s Office, City of Seattle Legislative Information Service, Ordinances Number 41948, 42016, 98925, 113875, 121790, 116969, Seattle City Clerk's Office website accessed February 21, 2010 (; Lawrence Kreisman, "Nomination Form, Arctic Building, 1978" National Register of Historic Places Inventory, Washington State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Olympia, Washington; New York Tribune, August 23, 1903, p. 8; "Mr. and Mrs. James Moses . . .," Ibid., August 19, 1906, p. 4; "Directors for Spring Lake Hotel Co.," Ibid. September 8, 1907, p. 2; "James Moses," Find-A-Grave website (includes obituary "James Moses Will Be Buried Monday," Trenton Evening Times, October 9, 1920), website accessed accessed March 21, 2010 (; Glen Carter, "Arctic Club on Ropes," Seattle Daily Times, June 16, 1971, p. 35; Paul Dorpat, “Seattle’s Arctic Club,” January 25, 2009, Paul Dorpat website accessed March 14, 2009 (;  A History of Trenton, 1679-1929, Chapter XVIII,  Trenton Historical Society website accessed March 21, 2010 (; City of Trenton, "Coalport/North Clinton," North Ward Historic Resource Survey, no date, Trenton Historical Society website accessed March 21, 2010 (; Quarter-century’s Progress of New Jersey’s Leading Manufacturing Center (New Brunswick, New Jersey: International Publishing, 1887), p. 290  "Trenton’s Potteries," The New York Times, March 29, 1873, online pdf file accessed March 21, 2010 (; Polk’s Seattle City Directory, 1917; Mike Barber, "Walrus Repairs on the Way -- Bids Are In for Restoring Bandaged Heads," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 12, 1996, p. A-1; National Trust Historic Hotels, Historic Hotels of America website accessed April 18, 2010 (; "The Historic Arctic Building in Seattle Being Transformed into a 120-room Hotel," Hotel Online Special Report, Hotel Online website accessed February 21, 2010 (; Kimberly Chou, "Historic Arctic Club Restored for New Life as Hotel," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 8, 2008 (; Lawrence Kreisman, "On Common Ground," Pacific Northwest magazine, Seattle Times, January 10, 2010, p. 11.

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