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One of the great stories of Seattle took place in this building. One of the great facades of Seattle buildings graces its exterior. Now a hotel, once a club for “explorers”, (but mostly the people who did business with them), the Arctic Building isn’t the largest building in Seattle, nor is it the most important, but it may just be one of the most interesting.
It was raised in 1916, by some lucky sods who had made off like bandits in the Klondike gold rush. At least that’s what the myth is. As Seattle well knows, most of the money was in outfitting the fools who went prospecting, not in the prospecting itself — this is the story of early Seattle. The primary funder of the club, James Moses, made his money in pottery, not gold or pickaxes and tents. And he wasn’t even a Seattle resident. The Arctic Club had strong ties to New York, where there was another club, and Chicago.
You would join the club if you wanted to reinforce your business connections to the Alaskan territory. The bar, which was once housed in an older building the club used before the building we all love so much was built, was apparently stolen through a window one night when nobody was paying attention.
The modern hotel bar is a good place to grab a drink these days — they faithfully, as possible, recreate the look-and-feel of a vintage lounge, although the drinks will set you back more than they did back in the early days. Here’s a hint: walking up to the parking lot on the corner of Cherry and Fourth allows you to walk up pretty close to one of the walrus cartouches — they’re gonna raze that to make a new skyscraper soon, so do it while you can.
And that great story? Be warned: it’s a tragedy. It centers around Marion Zioncheck, a leftist firebrand politician, who was elected to the US Senate as a representative from Washington. He was a staunch New Deal Democrat who had a wild streak, apparently. He was arrested with his wife for drunkenly cavorting in a fountain. He sent manure to J. Edgar Hoover. He was, by all accounts, completely crazy.
He announced he was retiring, and set the stage for his college buddy Warren Magnuson (the park is named for him) to run in his stead. But then, Zioncheck changed his mind. One August evening, in 1936, Zioncheck’s wife of four months Rubye was waiting in the car for him. He was in his office on the fifth floor of the Arctic Building. They were all set to go out to an event.
And then, his body tumbled down from the sky, smashing into the street in front of poor Rubye, almost hitting pedestrians, and ending the life of Marion Zioncheck. The fall was ruled a suicide, and in fact, there was a note left behind, and a witness, his brother-in-law who claimed he was trying to stop him from the act. There are those who think otherwise.
History is funny like that. It leaves buildings behind with these ghosts. I caught the bus on Third between Cherry and Columbia for years, and I walked past the spot where Zioncheck fell nearly every day. I never thought about him, save for when I was telling someone the story. Funny how we just move on and don’t remember. How a building can just be a nice hotel now. I wonder if you could sleep in the room that has the window he jumped from? Might be worth asking at the front desk.
One thing’s for sure. There are heck of a lot of stories waiting to come out of that building.
It was midnight when they broke in to the old Arctic Club. The new building was ready, and there was just one thing then needed. The building was quiet as they opened the massive window as high as it would go, and started breaking loose the large wooden bar. It was theirs, and they were gonna take it.
That old building on Third and Cherry was in poor repair, in 1975, and not looking so great. A woman, a waitress at the Harbor Club atop the Norton Building, was rushing down the hill in her heels, trying not to be late for her shift. When suddenly, she was grabbed by the waist and pulled aside. A tusk from one of the walrus friezes crashed to the sidewalk where she would have been. "Are you okay?" That voice...she turned, and gasped when she saw who had saved her.
They could only do it when the bar was slow, but it was a fun game. They tried to guess which couples getting hit on would go back to a room together. On a good night, they had a couple of hits. Occasionally, they stopped a creep from harassing someone. But when one of them elbowed the other to point out the man in the green suit making a move on the woman in the black wrap dress, what they never expected was to get pulled into the middle of an international incident.
They gathered every full moon. They wore black robes, and gathered under the walruses. They shined their lights up onto the building and began their chant. All hail the walrus! The walrus who brings life! They knew they'd have five minutes tops before the cops came, at least that was the average. But this time they had something planned that would change things. This time, they wouldn't be chased away so easily.
What was amusing was the one time she stayed in a hotel and could hear the neighbors next door spanking each other. What was not amusing was being in a hotel and hearing the neighbors next door yelling at each other in scary ways. But when she called the front desk to report them, all she was told was "Lock your door and don't leave your room until we tell you its safe", and the line went dead. Then the screaming in the hall started.