The Ranke family helped culture rise with Seattle
The Rankes, who arrived in Seattle in 1881, brought their love of culture with them, hosting entertainment in the fine homes they built in the city. Otto Ranke was also a successful contractor who raised many of the booming city’s landmarks.
Special to The Seattle Times
OTTO RANKE and Dora Duval, both born in Germany in the early 1840s, married early and emigrated first to Chicago, circa 1862, and then on to Seattle by 1881. The couple raised four children while Otto, a skilled contractor, also raised many of then-boomtown Seattle’s more imposing structures, including the Yesler-Leary Building and the Boston Block. (The former, in Pioneer Place, was destroyed by the city’s Great Fire of 1889, and the latter survived it, barely.)
Otto was known for his singing, and Dora for her dancing. Together with their children and other local talents they produced theater and light opera, often in their big home on the northwest corner of Pike Street and Fifth Avenue, shown here. With the help of a theater coach from the East Coast, the couple staged Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “Patience” at the Frye Opera House on Dec. 30, 1888. The place was nearly packed for the performance by the Seattle Juvenile Opera Company.
This record of the posing Ranke family — although they are not named — dates from about 1884. Another look at the home, down from Denny Hill in 1885, shows it nearly doubled. In 1889, the prospering Rankes joined the smart move of Seattle’s “better-offs” to First Hill. They purchased the southeast corner of Madison Street and Terry Avenue, and built a baronial mansion ornamented with carved panels, Oriental rugs, stained glass, and oil paintings for all the halls and 11 bedrooms.
Otto did not live long enough to enjoy the family’s new mansion and the musicales and theatrics he almost certainly had planned for it. He died of a “throat ailment” in 1892. Dora lived on until 1919 — and well-off. In 1907, her vacation to Europe included a one-year stay in Paris. The four-story Ranke building that replaced the home on Pike included a venue large enough for masquerade balls. Long accompanied there by the city’s popular and long-lived Wagner’s First Regiment Orchestra, the balls at the building became a local tradition. The brick Ranke Building was razed in 1927 for a “higher and better use” of the corner.
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