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Originally published Friday, April 18, 2014 at 10:04 AM

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Seattle brick box on Fifth Avenue has a colorful past

Tenants included a furniture dealer handy with hardwood billiard tables and fumed-oak davenports. In 1928 the place was remodeled for the auto-renter Aero-U-Drive-Inc. Upstairs held a speakeasy.


Special to The Seattle Times

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STANDING ALONE on a Denny Regrade lot, a 30-by-109-foot brick shoebox sits at 1921 Fifth Avenue. In the 1880s a pioneer-wagon road leading to Queen Anne Hill passed by here. That was long before the regrade, but with half-closed eyes we can imagine the wagon crossing this sloping northeastern corner of Denny Hill very near the roofline of this sturdy, reinforced-concrete box, or a few feet above the Monorail seen in Jean Sherrard’s “now.”

All the signs in the second-floor windows are for political publications, including the Washington Democrat, whose name is also on the front door. But by 1918 all had moved away, including the Democrats. The likely date here is 1917; tax records say this box was built in 1915. Peeking over the roof is a clue. It is a late construction scene for the terra cotta-tile-adorned Securities Building, described online by its owner, Clise Properties, as completed in 1917. The Clise Investment Co. was one of the building’s first occupants.

The early user history of the building also included a furniture dealer handy with hardwood billiard tables and fumed-oak davenports. In 1928 the place was remodeled for the auto-renter Aero-U-Drive-Inc. A wide door was cut to move cars in and out of the long garage inside. Upstairs on the second floor was the Colony Club, one of the many speakeasies that the state Liquor Control Board announced in the spring of 1934 it would soon padlock. John Dore, Seattle’s brilliant and sometimes bellicose mayor, gave the prohibition police no help, announcing to the press, “We have matters of greater importance and dearer consequence to consider than closing up speakeasies.” Hizzoner was thinking of that year’s waterfront strike.

The surviving 1949 remodel with glass bricks was for a new business, Singer Sewing Machine. After the sewing, Uptown Music sold guitars and rented school band instruments in the 1970s.

In 1980 the glass-adorned box was rented for the Reagan-Bush Washington state headquarters. The Republican Party was replaced with partying. Two music clubs paid the rent, the Weathered Wall and I-Spy. In 2008 the latter was promoted as an “Urban Comedy Jazz Café.” And so it figures that next year the shoebox may trumpet its centennial.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.



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