woven into the storyline of Seattle, the Fairmont Olympic Hotel tucks
significant pieces of the city’s past into its deepest chambers. The roguish water-centric
city shed some rough edges between the two World Wars, and this ornate Italian
Renaissance hotel was in the thick of it all.
six years after World War I and experiencing a new surge of wealth from those
who got lucky in the Klondike Gold Rush, Seattle was ready for its first true
“grand hotel.” The chosen land already held a soft spot in the heart of locals,
being the first home of the University of Washington. A plan emerged for the
community to pitch in by way of a citywide bond subscription campaign to
finance the hotel’s construction, and it was a resounding success.
also gave everyday Seattleites a stake in their new “Belle of the Northwest
Ball.” The Seattle Times held a public contest to name the city’s new hotel,
gathering a list of 3,906 entries. Less than a year after breaking ground, the opening
day finally arrived on December 6, 1924.
Capitol Has Been Provided
least 2,000 people donned their finest threads for the posh opening-night gala,
arriving in awe to a graceful edifice of Belgian marble, brick and terra cotta
with rooftop searchlights scanning the sky. Orchestras music sifted throughout
the ornate lobby, assembly room, Italian and Spanish ballrooms and hundreds of
sleeping chambers, while five kitchens dished out elegant fare served by maids
swathed in green silk.
by glittering chandeliers, the scene unfolded as bellhops, cigar vendors and
white-clad sailors dashed in and out of the crowds, framed by walnut furniture,
arched ceilings, Palladian windows, American oak panels and damask draperies. No
expense was spared, and it was a night that elevated downtown Seattle to new
social heights. Newspaper headlines the next morning heralded the project’s
success, and the Seattle Times proclaimed, “With
the formal opening of the Olympic, Page One in a new social era was turned …..
In the province whence come social calendars, a capitol has been
War II brought a new level of social engagement when the section of University
Street in front of the Olympic Hotel and Metropolitan Theater became “Victory
Square.” It was Seattle’s homefront for War Bond drives, rallies and civic
engagement as well as the celebration spot for the war’s end in 1945. The
Metropolitan Theater, connected to the hotel from the very beginning, survived
until 1954 with a final performance of What Every Woman Knows starring Helen
Fit for Royalty
Now listed on the
National Register of Historic Places, the Fairmont Olympic retains all its
original charm – and then some. The old adage “fit for royalty” is literal
here, evidenced by the presence of guests such as Britain’s Prince Philip, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and
Japan’s Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko. In March 2018, hotel
guests were stunned by the presence of metal detectors, security personnel,
bomb-sniffing dogs, and a pavement full of Seattle police vehicles and black
Suburbans with government license plates.
As it turned out, a
crowd of royal court delegates from Saudi Arabia were encamped at the hotel
while Prince Mohammed bin Salman met
individually with Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Microsoft CEO Satya
Nadello. The Crown Prince and his entourage had landed earlier at Paine Field
in his private VIP 747 jet to tour the Boeing plant where it was made.
America’s own versions of royalty have graced the
halls of the Fairmont Olympic as well, with a string of presidents ranging from
Herbert Hoover to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon,
John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. U.S. Senator Warren
G. Magnuson even lived in the hotel when he was back home in Washington. The
450 guests room and suites have hosted legends such as Charles Lindbergh and
Jimmy Hoffa and celebrities Bob Hope, John Wayne, Elvis Presley and Bing
An Uptown Hometown
captivated by tales of history, presidents and politics at the Fairmont Olympic
are often surprised to learn that it’s still very much a “hometown” hotel. It’s
where couples say I do, seniors have
their last prom dance, and civic galas celebrate new milestones. It’s also a
place to watch daily life unfold: afternoon tea with mom at The Georgian … live
music at The Terrace on a nervous first date … girlfriend spa time of Penelope
& the Beauty Bar … grabbing an espresso at Fourth Ave coffee bar on the way
to a job interview.
and out-of-towners alike make their way to happy hour at what was once the
hotel’s haberdashery in the 1930s and now houses Seattle’s oldest oyster bar, Shucker’s.
Seasonal selections come from at least a dozen places with names like Cranberry
Creek, Stellar Bay, Penn Cove and Sister Point.
Teddy Bears and Honey Bees
Fairmont Olympic does things by the hundreds and thousands, from teddy bears to
honey bees. Families plan for months ahead to visit the hotel in December, but
not just for the elaborate winter-wonderland displays, roasted chestnuts and
life-sized gingerbread house. They go for the tromp through teddy-bear heaven.
Hundreds of teddies, from minis to giants and in every conceivable
configuration, live inside the Teddy Bear Suite, which encourages snuggle time
in the cozy plush bed. It’s all free, and donations go to Seattle Children’s
fantastical kingdom crowns the Fairmont Olympic, literally. It’s the land of
the honey bees, doing their busy-buzzing magic on the rooftop aviary created by
Executive Chef Gavin Stephenson. Splashing the sky with a blaze of color, 10
painted hives house at least half a million bees. And yes, they do actually
produce honey, which you can taste in the Olympic Honey Hard Cider and
Honeymoon Suite Ale at Shuckers and the Terrace Bar. The honey also infuses a
Rooftop Honey Lemon Drop cocktail, a breakfast-favorite Rooftop Honey Granola, and
several delectable creations at the afternoon high-tea service.
Heartbeat of a City
many properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Fairmont
Olympic Hotel has a complexity earned by an ongoing role in things that matter.
It’s seen conflict, controversy and compromise alongside victory in war,
resolution of labor disputes, the end of Prohibition, and the rise and fall of
prosperity for almost 10 decades. The Fairmont Olympic will always be part of
Seattle’s heartbeart, burnishing both past and present in a continually