Strangely enough, it is often a surprise to people when we tell them we have pubs in Seattle.
Six Arms on Capitol Hill and McMenamins Queen Anne in (strangely enough) the Queen Anne neighborhood both have an intriguing history hidden just below the surface – from Auto Row to Denny’s Prairie, from the Roaring Twenties to the Space Age of the early 1960s....
This archived McMenamins newsletter article (written in 2005) delves into these Seattle pubs’ stories.
Where Others Slip…
Despite the great artwork, music and plumbing sculptures that fill Six Arms, its most prominent feature may be the floor-to-ceiling windows that line its walls along Pike Street and Melrose. Just on the edge of downtown, the picture windows here are ideally suited for an afternoon of happy hour people-watching. While they nicely frame one of Seattle’s hippest neighborhoods, that, of course, was not their intended purpose. The huge panes of glass were originally intended to allow passers-by to peer in, to catch a glimpse of the showroom floor and the newest automotive technology on display there.
In 1895, a large residence stood on this corner. But the dawn of the automobile age brought great change to the neighborhood. Pike Street, from about 8th Avenue to Broadway, was transformed into Seattle's “Auto Row,” featuring a string of car dealerships, repair garages, machine shops and parts stores. Even one of the city’s first motorcycle dealerships, Hirsch’s Harley-Davidson Motorcycle and Bicycle Company, was located just across Pike Street from the Six Arms. In 1910, the grand old home was replaced by the brick building that today houses Six Arms.
Advantageously situated on the border of two up-and-coming neighborhoods, First Hill to the south and Capitol Hill to north, the new brick commercial structure also sat squarely on the route of one of Seattle’s main streetcar lines. The grade on Pike Street was more favorable than Union or Pine, and by the turn of the century, streetcars regularly clambered up the hill from the central business district up to Broadway and beyond. By 1920, there were as many as five streetcar routes that went right by the storefront here.
One of the first tenants to occupy the Six Arm’s spot was Keaton Tire & Rubber Company, a West Coast tire chain that stretched from Los Angeles to Seattle. “Where Others Slip, Keatons Grip” was the company slogan, but the business never did quite gain traction, and the company was bought out in 1925 by a Portland man. Shortly after, the Peerless Motor Car dealership moved into the Six Arms space.
High-end, limited-production luxury vehicles, Peerless autos were some of the most expensive cars sold in the United States. During the Teens and Twenties, Peerless helped set the standards for auto engineering and was responsible for many of the innovations we take for granted today, including a hood covering the engine, an accelerator pedal, an electric starter and electric (not oil) headlights, to name a few. From 1904 to 1906, an early Peerless car called the Green Dragon broke track speed records all over the United States.
When Peerless cars first filled this showroom they had just restyled their entire line to reflect the trendy and chic “Roaring Twenties.” The new, less conservative styling was intended to expand Peerless’ market share, and they probably chose this location because it was just across Melrose from one of their major competitors, Packard Autos. Packard and Peerless had been fierce rivals in the high-end auto market for more than two decades, and one can only imagine the competition between the dealers here at Pike Street and Melrose! The old Packard building still commands much of the view out of Six Arm’s windows.
Because of its successes during the 1920s, Peerless unveiled a prototype all-aluminum V-16 engine in 1931 to power their next generation of cars. But the market crash of 1929 and the growing economic depression made it increasingly difficult to survive in the luxury auto business. Late in 1931, Peerless pulled out of the auto business – and out of the Six Arm’s building – and began, of all things, to brew beer. In late 1933, coinciding with the repeal of Prohibition, a retooled car factory in Cleveland, Ohio, began brewing Carling Black Label beer with the same president, directors and stockholders as the automobile manufacturer formerly known as the Peerless Motor Car Company.
After Peerless vacated, the building remained tied to the auto industry but began to reflect changes in the auto industry as well as the neighborhood itself. For two decades used cars were on display here, followed by an auto body repair shop. In 1975, Accurate Engine Rebuild was here, and in the early ‘80s, as a sign of the changing role of East Pike Street, an architect, landscape artist and eventually a flower shop moved in. In 1995, McMenamins Six Arms became the heir of the automotive heritage.
This summer, the pub celebrates 19 years on the corner of historic East Pike and Melrose. While fast-talking dealers and lumbering streetcars no longer steal the scene outside the picture windows, the modern-day sights are no less interesting. Come take a seat at one of the booths, enjoy a handcrafted (like the limited-production Peerless!) ale brewed on site and imagine you are in the bench seat of a shiny, brand-new Peerless Motor Car, a marvel of cutting-edge, gas-powered technology!
The McMenamins Queen Anne pub (informally known within the company as “Roy Street”) sits at a very unique spot at the base of Queen Anne Hill, just a short block away from the Seattle Center complex, on the corner of Roy and North 3rd Avenue. While the building itself is modern, the pub sits on ground that has great history, stretching back even before the first white settlers arrived at Alki Beach in West Seattle. The pub is on the north edge of what was once known as “Denny’s Prairie,” a marshy lowland that was part of the land claim and home of the David Denny family. The prairie’s transition from native hunting grounds to the futuristic community gathering spot known as the Seattle Center is a remarkable tale, and the story of the pub and its neighborhood cannot be told without it.
Seattle Center is most often associated with the famed World’s Fair of 1962. True, many of its signature building have their roots in the event, but the Center’s story really begins long before that in 1881. That year, a Pioneer Square saloon keeper named James Osborne bequeathed $20,000 to the city of Seattle for the sole purpose of constructing a civic hall. The city struggled for a location and matching funds until, more than 44 years later in 1928, they finally realized Osborne’s desire.
The city constructed Civic Auditorium on Mercer Street, between 3rd and 5th Streets, just a block away from today’s pub. At the time, lower Queen Anne was fairly populated, but the prairie itself had few residents. There were two houses standing where McMenamins now sits, one facing North 3rd and another facing Roy Street. The first house dates to the early 1890s, the latter to about 1903.
Civic Auditorium was the only public building of its kind in Seattle and was an instant success, prompting the city to build more. During the Depression, the Civic Ice Arena and Civic Field were added to the site. In 1939, the Washington State National Guard constructed a large armory near the other civic sites, housing military tanks and an indoor firing range for more than two decades. Civic Field, host to professional sporting events, was razed in ’46 and Seattle Memorial Stadium was built in its place. By 1950, this area was largely public space and the natural choice for the 1962 Exposition fairgrounds.
The Expo was conceived during the mid-1950s by city boosters who wanted to promote Seattle as a global, not just regional, metropolis. There was a sense among business leaders that Seattle’s newfound postwar maturity was underappreciated by the rest of the country – indeed, the world. Many also felt that the downtown business district was suffering losses to increasing suburbanization, accelerated by the growing influence of employers such as Boeing who located outside of the central business core.
Two years after the initial committee was formed, organizers were still unsure where to hold the Expo and what its focus would be. The Civic Center that had sprung up around the Auditorium seemed usable for the fairgrounds, but no theme seemed compelling enough give the city national appeal. That changed suddenly on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully put a 183-pound, basketball-sized satellite named Sputnik into orbit. Less than a month later, Sputnik II carried a dog named Laika into space. The world was shocked and suddenly the superpowers’ space race was on.
Uneasiness over Sputnik fueled a resurgent national interest in space, science and technology and offered Seattle’s fair boosters a major opportunity to create a relevant theme. National leaders were eager to fund anything that might redress the U.S. lag in science, and huge amounts of money, from both the public and private sectors, became available to the fair’s organizers. In 1962, 74 acres of David Denny’s original land claim were transformed into the “Century 21 Exposition,” Seattle’s World Fair. Civic Auditorium, the original building constructed here, was transformed into the Opera House. The Armory traded its combative pursuits for culinary ones and was converted into the Center House. The Space Needle, Key Arena and Monorail were also built as signature features for the Expo.
The Exposition was a monument to the future, to the technological achievements of the nation and, perhaps not coincidentally, to companies like Boeing. As such, little thought was given to preserving the past, and many homes, apartments and small businesses where bulldozed to make room for the fairgrounds. The Exposition was a defining moment that forever changed the landscape of the neighborhood – and city – permanently. Two years before Sputnik’s launch, a wholesale grocery store was constructed right on the spot where McMenamins Queen Anne Pub now sits. Almost every building on this intersection and for three blocks west was leveled for Expo parking, but the grocery was spared. The building remained here until 1980, and the present pub building was constructed a little more than a decade later.
From native hunting grounds to the cold war space race and the Seattle Opera House, this spot on the corner of Roy Street and North 3rd has changed about as drastically as any place can. Now, after 19 years of being on this corner, McMenamins Queen Anne Pub serves the neighborhood locals as well as people from all over the planet who come to see a quaint vision of the future that was once the focus of the world.
P.S. We raise a glass to Dad Watsons, which closed up shop in the Fremont neighborhood over three years ago. But you never know, ol’ Dad may be reincarnated someday.
P.P.S. We raise another glass to McMenamins Mill Creek, 21 miles northeast of Seattle.
P.P.P.S. We raise yet another glass to the Anderson School in Bothell, Wash., 20 miles north then east then north again from Seattle.