Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Prostitution on Beacon Hill, Then and Now

I was just browsing HistoryLink and came across this South End story.

On August 13, 1951, a B-50 “Superfortress” bomber develops engine trouble immediately after taking off from Boeing Field. The plane glances off the Sicks’ Seattle Brewing and Malting Company and slams into nearby Lester Apartments on Beacon Hill, killing 11 people and injuring 11 others.


Sicks' Seattle Brewing and Malting Company is, of course, the Rainier Cold Storage complex on Airport Way.

[Correction: The picture of the Rainier Cold Storage Stock House on the HistoryLink page led me to believe that the bomber grazed that one of the buildings in that complex. However, Jim Harmon of Sabey Corporation (current owners of the property) and other commenters have posted that they believe the plane hit the building that is now Tully's roasting plant, up the street.]

And Lester Apartments? Apparently it was once the world's largest bordello, right here on Beacon Hill.

SeattleMayorHiramGill'sBordelloOnBeaconHill1910

FloorPlanSeattleMayorHiramGill'sBordelloOnBeaconHill1910

From the same HistoryLink essay:

Unbeknownst to many, the tragic crash also brought an end to a piece of Seattle’s more infamous past. The Lester Apartments, for years a home for working-class families and fixed-income residents, had an unseemly history that was rarely discussed by the few who remembered it.

In 1910, Hiram Gill (1866-1919) was elected mayor of Seattle in an administration rife with corruption. Gill’s chief of police, Charles Wappenstein, cut a deal with two vice-lords wherein he received $10 a month for each of the approximately 500 prostitutes in Seattle. Business was so good that the men began building a 500-room brothel on the western slope of Beacon Hill to further pad their bank accounts.

A “friendly” City Council cut the builders some slack and gave them a 15-year lease. By the time construction was complete, the local citizenry had had enough of such blatant debauchery at such a high level of office, and a recall petition was circulated against the mayor. Gill was turned out of office -- he was elected again in 1914 after vowing to crack down on vice -- and Wappenstein was sent to the state penitentiary.

What was once proclaimed the largest bordello in the world fell into disuse. Later, the 500 “cribs” were combined into multi-room apartments, and the building’s proximity to Boeing Field led many workers to take up residence there, especially during World War II. Few knew of the building’s history. At some point, it was renamed the Lester Apartments. They were destroyed in the maelstrom on August 13, 1951.


In more recent Beacon Hill prostitution news, the Beacon Lights blogger posted yesterday about the "angels of the morning" who live in our neighborhood.

8 comments:

cirocco said...

"Vice-lord." That's a new one on me.

When I was giving tours at the Rainier Brewery in college, every once in a while an elderly person would come in and tell me about the B-52 that crashed into the brewery after the war. They seemed to be under the impression that the plane had hit the building we were then standing in, though--the original Sick's Brewery (now Tully's offices), across the street from the old bottling plant. I didn't realize the plane had whacked the Cold Storage building, which was up the street.

LM said...

Craig T's writing is getting better.

Anonymous said...

The Lester Apartments were in the area of the interchange for the West Seattle Viaduct. By the 1940's Sick had consolidated his operations to the complex which is now occupied by Tully's. He did own both breweries at one point, but he chose to modernize and produce beer at the northern location after prohibition was repealed.

Jim Harmon said...

I've been going back through historical research between the the two breweries (Rainier Cold Storage in Georgetown and the Tully's building at Spokane St) and suspect that the building clipped by the B-50 was the Tully's building. Fritz & Emil Sick owned both properties from a 1935 purchase from the Hemrich family (who moved to SF with Washington's prohibition in 1916). They completely remodeled the Tully's building and changed the name of their new brewery (they actually owned 11 breweries in the US, more in Canada where they started) from Century Brewing to Sick's Seattle Brewing & Malting Co. (which is still emblazened today on the side of the Tully's building at 3100 Airport Way). The Sicks never restarted the Georgetown brewery, but sold it in Dec 1942 to Jack McGoldrick who used it for its post-prohibition adaptation of cold storage and food processing (he added ice production too after the war). The confusion between the two buildings is quite common, and seems to be almost encouraged by Sick and Hemrich in that they wanted their building to be considered the center of all things Rainier. But that's another story.

FOGH said...

Jim is correct in thinking it was the Tully's building which was clipped - the Lester apartments stood behind the former Sick's Brewery -what we now called Tully's. It is very confusing as both locations were part of the Seattle Brewing and Malting Company in the early days.... although there was another plane crash in the late 40's which happened near our beloved Rainier Brewery in the heart of Gtown - it was blocks away and did not hit the brewery building.

Thanks for sharing the photos - historylink is a great resource!

Anonymous said...

A friend and I were headed down Lucille one night on our way to Stellar and passed by a hooker. She was there two nights later as I went by again on my way to Georgetown. I haven't seen her lately though. I kinda feel sorry for hookers who work where there aren't any hotels (like near where our offices are) because then you know for sure they're "backseat" material. And whew, that's harsh.

arturo said...

So it seems there's been a long history of Seattle mayors sticking their "red light-districts" in Beacon/Georgetown. Cool.

PM said...

The Lester Apartments were located at 3004 Tenth Avenue South. There are two pictures of the wreckage in the King County Snapshots database (which is almost as good as History Link for finding weird south end items), and it gives the address.