Originally published on examiner.com May 7, 2015.
There’s something extra special about hotels that have taken up residence in historic buildings. They can provide the same brand standards as other properties under the same umbrella, whether it’s in-room coffee and tea and a warm cookie at check-in, but these distinctive edifices are what form that extra je ne sais quois that inspire the imagination.
You generally know what you’re getting when you go to a DoubleTree by Hilton. It’s difficult not to spend the entire journey to the hotel looking forward to that famous cookie. But for a few notable exceptions, the rest of the properties in this brand are the same. The Arctic Club Seattle – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel offers all that one could expect from this internationally known brand, but there’s so much added character it’s almost impossible to decide where to begin. It’s a delicate undertaking, striking a balance between offering an experience consistent with what fans of a well-known hospitality brand will expect, while at the same time honoring the personality and history of a century-old building that has been designated as a Seattle Landmark by the city in addition to an entry on the National Register of Historic Places.
There’s plenty of distinction in this historic building that’s so well honored in the hotel’s current incarnation. The Beaux Arts style Arctic Building was constructed for the Arctic Club in 1916. The club, which was a fraternal order of Seattle businessmen that had returned from various commercial ventures in Alaska and the Yukon found themselves in need of a new building after finding themselves in a dispute with the owners of the Morrison Hotel, two blocks south. They commissioned a new building on what was then the site of the Seattle Theatre. Now a fraternal order wouldn’t be a fraternal order without a dispute or two, and of course, shenanigans ensued when the club’s members absconded with the bar from the original building, which was hoisted out of an upper story window. It’s not clear (although rather unlikely) whether the bar in the hotel is the same pilfered furniture from the original Arctic Club, but it’s fun to ponder over a cocktail or two in the appropriately club-like bar, which was once the gentlemen’s smoking room.
Although the club itself was dissolved in the 1970s, the members still seem to hang around the lobby. Their portraits stare down from the walls and columns surrounding the front desk, and period collar stays under glass on the desk itself and replicas of members’ top hats behind the desk give a reminder that the space was once very much and still remains a gentlemens’ haunt (without irony, of course).
Speaking of haunting, a building as old as the Arctic Building couldn’t be without a ghost story. The building is also distinctive for being one of the relatively few places in the country where a sitting U.S. Congressman has committed suicide (or at least it was ruled a suicide at the time, but modern forensic criminologists have had their doubts). In 1936 Congressman Marion Zioncheck of Washington’s 1st Congressional District fell to his death from a fifth story window. Some observers have noted that to this day, the building’s elevators will sometimes ascend to the fifth floor without having been called, but when the doors open on that floor the car is empty.
Today, the hotel has preserved much of the historical design themes in the guest rooms, with logo adorned bedspreads (a style popular at the turn of the century to prevent theft), Beaux Art period accents such as wallpaper, bathroom tile and furnishings, and that pleasant “old building aroma” that is (pleasantly) reminiscent of an aged cheese. There’s plenty of attention to detail, too. Room number placards carry through the walrus motif, and there are replica period house phones in the elevator vestibules. There are also some nice modern touches: french press coffee carafes with packets of Starbucks to start off a perfect Seattle morning.
Room rates start from about $179 and increase during the peak summer season. For a splurge, get a room with a balcony (more of a widow’s walk, really). They have commanding views of Smith Tower, which was built during the same period, and a slight lean out looking north up 3rd Avenue reveals a distant Space Needle. Sit outside or in the window vestibule, sipping a freshly pressed cup of local coffee, and ponder the hijinks of a group of adventurous young men in an adventurous young city, facing an adventurous young century.
Thank you and warmest Aloha to Arctic Club Seattle – A DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel for furnishing accommodations in preparation for this story.