Stories from the Square: Pioneer Square , Then and Now

Stories from the Square: Pioneer Square , Then and Now



Our neighborhood's rich story includes a collage of historic buildings and some of the city's oldest architectural features. We are excited to introduce a new series highlighting the past and present of Pioneer Square's most iconic buildings called Stories from the Square: Pioneer Square, Then and Now. Each week, we will feature one neighborhood building and tell the stories of the space. 

Barney’s Loan Building

This week, we will highlight Barney's Loan building located at 401 2nd Ave Ext S in Pioneer Square.

Barney's Loans was constructed in 1890 for Captain James Nugent and John Considine. Beginning with John Considine, this building, over time, has been associated with some of the more risqué aspects of the history of the Pioneer Square Historic District. In the basement below the former Double Header Bar, from 1890 to 1904, John Considine ran his People’s Theater, known for the “box houses,” which provided both “theatrical” entertainment such as magic acts, singing, dancing, minstrel shows, as well as sexual services. 

Considine is also famous for shooting Seattle police chief William Meredith, after the latter pursued him into the H. K. Owens/ Metropole Building and tried to kill him with a sawed off shotgun. Considine was found innocent of the murder. The Double Header was founded in 1934 and operated as a gay bar, famous for drag shows on the main level. Below it, in the location of John Considine’s People’s Theater, was an after hours venue known officially as the Casino, and unofficially as “Madame Peabody’s Dancing Academy for Young Ladies.” One guest of the Casino described it as, "The owners of The Casino, John and Margaret wouldn't let anyone mess with the queens. A queen was anyone who was gay and didn't try to hide it. They protected us and we loved them for that." The Casino was the only place on the West Coast that was open and free for gay people. (Velma, 1966)

In 2017, Seattle-based performance artist and poet Storme Webber held a solo exhibition at the Frye Art Museum telling a personal history of the Casino. The exhibit describes a lost Pioneer Square. "Beginning in the late nineteenth century, saloons, bars, and diners on Seattle’s Skid Row (present-day Pioneer Square) provided a haven for poor folks, lesbian mothers, urban and displaced Natives, gay servicemen, working girls, hustlers, achnucek (two spirits), butches, femmes, drag queens, and the city's working class long before the creation of "safe spaces" for LGBTQ people. Establishments such as the Double Header, the Busy Bee Café, and the Casino—all located near the corner of South Washington Street and Second Avenue South—provided refuge for many, including Webber's own family."

Following the Casino was the Catwalk which operated from 1994-2005 a venue friendly to the S&M crowd. One regular of the Catwalk described it as, "the music was always dark and loud and patrons—fetishists, cyber-punks, industrial goths, naughty girl-elves, gender-benders, duct-taped nightmare boys, friendly dancing fiends—dressed way up to get past the strict bouncer at the door." In the 1970s, the center of the LGBTQ community began to move to Capitol Hill and the University District, though the Double Header remained open until 2015.

The Barney's Loans Building is known to feature Queen Anne - Richardsonian Romanesque architectural styles. The design and detailing – the gridded Victorian composition and the use of brick corbelling as the only ornament are typical of buildings erected in the “burnt district” right after the Fire of 1889. The Second Avenue Extension façade, in particular, has a surprising amount of architectural detailing, despite the loss of its upper two floors. Like many of the buildings on Second Avenue Extension between Yesler to Washington Street, it was once a taller building. The first floor was topped by two floors with segmental arched openings arranged in groups of three on Second Avenue and groups of two on Washington Street.

Today the Barney's Loan Building is home to Barney's Loans, Seattle Mart, Ember Hookah Lounge at the street level, and STAGE Seattle in the basement level.

Tashiro-Kaplan Building

The Tashiro-Kaplan Building is located at 115 Prefontaine Pl S. in Pioneer Square.

The Tashiro-Kaplan Building (TK) stands today as one building, but prior to the early 1980's was two distinct structures- the Kaplan and Tashiro Buildings, respectively. The Kaplan Building was designed as a wholesale house for Charles Stimson by architect C. R. Aldrich and completed around 1907.  The Tashiro Building was erected in 1908 on a site purchased by ex-Governor McGraw of Washington State. In the early 1980s, the entire Tashiro-Kaplan Block was purchased by Jan Mohammed, an ex-Kenyan government minister, who had relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia. 

In 1914, the Kaplan Building became known as Market Square, but was also known as the South End Public Market. At the time, it was described as “Seattle’s newest market.” like many market buildings of the time, a wide variety of goods and services were provided in the “Market Square.” Not only were produce, poultry, fish, dairy, tea, coffee and pastries sold there, but there were also tailors, delicatessens, barbers, shoe repair shops, cafes and law offices. By the 1940s, the popularity of public markets was on the wane and the Kaplan Building was used for a variety of purposes, including the Japanese daily, Asahi News. From 1919 well into the 1980s, the Tashiro Building housed the Tashiro Hardware Company. Later known for its Japanese tools, the store became an important focus of Pioneer Square. Metro purchased both buildings sometime around late 1985, when it announced the imminent construction of the new traffic tunnel below 3rd Avenue. In 2004 the Kaplan Building was renovated by Artspace Projects Inc, a nonprofit artists' housing developer, to feature fifty artists's live/work spaces as well as ground floor retail spaces.

Today, the Tashiro Kaplan Artists Lofts feature 50 units of affordable housing and creative space for artists and their families. The Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts building also houses 28 commercial arts related entities, including the non-profit agency 4Culture, individual artist work-only studios, artist exhibit co-ops and some of the most prestigious commercial galleries in Seattle, including the Center for Contemporary ArtZINC Contemporary, Gallery 110, Method Gallery, Shift Gallery, Lynn Hanson Gallery, SOIL, Core Gallery, Lynn Schirmer and Specialist Gallery. Rare bookstore, Mortlake and Company also call the TK home.

The TK is fast becoming a one stop center for visual art and other cultural activities, especially during the monthly First Thursday Artwalk in Pioneer Square. Along with huge crowds, the venues in the building play host to both planned and impromptu arts events and happenings.

Sources: Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Tashiro Kaplan Building, ArtsSpace.

Washington Shoe Building

The Washington Shoe Building is located at 159 S Jackson S in Pioneer Square.

The Washington Shoe building (also known as "The Shoe”), located at 400 Occidental Way, was built in 1892 under the design of the firm Boone and Wilcox. W.E. Boone of Wilcox and Boone was described in his 1921 obituary in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as a direct descendant of Daniel Boone. Boone is responsible for many buildings in what is now the Pioneer Square Historic District, including the pre-fire Yesler-Leary Building, which stood at the intersection of Yesler Avenue and First Avenue, the Globe Building (the former Marshall Walker Block) , and the Seattle Quilt Building.  

The building, long used as a manufacturing/warehouse building, was sold in 1885 after the owners, John M. Frink and Abbie Frink, failed to make good on promissory notes or to pay several years worth of property taxes. In the late 1890's, the Washington Shoe Building was originally a manufacturing location and retail store for the Washington Shoe Company. During the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush, the company supplied boots to incoming stampeders in Seattle who were on their way to Alaska to seek their fortunes. In 1912, the top two stories were added to the then four story structure.  

The building retains the important features from 1892, including Art Deco cladding at the ground floor. The Washington Shoe Building is known to feature Art Deco - Zig Zag and Queen Anne - Richardsonian Romanesque architectural styles.  

Today, the Washington Shoe Building is home to first floor retailer Intrigue Chocolate.Intrigue Chocolate is a small, artisan chocolate company that explores flavor through the medium of fresh chocolate. We specialize in confections such as truffles and spiced chocolate bars, as well as origin chocolate we stone mill from the bean in our Pioneer Square boutique gift shop. At Intrigue we celebrate discovery and encourage the habit of exploration, enrichment, and enjoyment. 

Another notable tenant is Olson Kundig, a collaborative global design practice whose work expands the context of built and natural landscapes. Olson Kundig has designed some of Seattle's most iconic buildings, including the new Burke Museum, the new Center for Wooden Boats, and the soon-to open Pavillion in Occidental Square.

Sources: Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

Good Arts Building

The Good Arts Building at 110 Cherry St in Pioneer Square.

The Good Arts Building, historically known as the Scheuerman Block, was designed by Elmer Fisher in 1889 for Christian Scheuerman and completed in 1890. Scheuerman  was a farmer, brewer, liquor dealer, and real estate investor and the building remained in the ownership of the Scheuerman Investment Co. until at least 1941.

Architecturally, the Good Arts Building displays a Queen Anne - Richardsonian Romanesque style. The three story building is clad in brick with cast iron features along the street elevation. The cast iron storefront along First Avenue includes pilasters ornated with rosettes and canthus shapes. Rusticated sandstone trim adorns several archways on the second and third stories. 

When first constructed, the Scheuerman Block Building was designed to house retail stores on the lower floors and offices on the second and third floors.  During the building's first twenty years, from approximately 1890 until 1910, the original use of the building held true. Over the years, the building has been a hub of entrepreneurial, creative, and colorful endeavors. It has been the home to department stores, the Good Eats diner, a cigar store, a jazz club, a boxing gym, brothels, speakeasies, and the original office of Washington Mutual Savings Bank.

In the 1970’s the basement housed the first gay and lesbian community center in Seattle, followed by the Skid Road Theatre, in which such local theatrical stalwarts as Kurt Beattie, R. Hamilton Wright, and Linda Hartzell produced original shows during the theatre’s ten successful years. In 2011, a dozen artists who had been evicted from the nearby 619 Western Building established ’57 Biscayne studios on the second floor. In 2015, it was announced the building which had once housed the Good Eats Cafeteria would be known as the Good Arts Building, after the property was sold to the current owner, Good Arts LLC.

More recently, the Good Arts building has hosted pop-up galleries for the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), Seattle Art Fair, and LaSala Latino/a Artists’ Network, and independent artists from around the world; as well as a venue for the Upstream Music Festival. It is home to the Cherry Street Coffee House, Beneath the Streets, ’57 Biscayne, Bad Bishop, Lolo’s Hair Design, Molly Ray Parfums, Sew Generously Bespoke and the Salon Rue de Cerise guest suite.

Sources: Good Arts Building, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

Merchant’s Café

Merchant’s Café is located at 109 Yesler Way in Pioneer Square.

Merchant’s Café , originally a two-story wooden building, was constructed by John Hall Sanderson and is one of the oldest operating restaurants at its original location in Seattle. It was rebuilt out of brick in 1890, after it burnt to the ground in the Great Seattle Fire, to hold a liquor store/café on the bottom floor and a hotel on the top two floors.

The building was later sold in 1892 and it was at this time that the upstairs apartments began to accept hourly rentals. Charles Osner, the new owner, recognized how lucrative prostitution was in a town full of lumberjacks and gold miners and so imported women (discreetly called, "seamstresses") into Seattle. At the back of the saloon were a number of framed paintings of these "seamstresses" and it is reported that a visitor would point to the one he wanted to have "hem" his trousers, and then pay the proprietor before making his way upstairs to have his inseam taken in. In 1898, a year after the gold rush madness, Franz Xavier Schreiner purchased the Saloon. The building remained in the Schreiner family until the 1970s.

Like many buildings in Pioneer Square the building displays the Queen Anne - Richardsoniaon Romanesque style. On the street level, the building has a recessed glazed storefront, with above it a marquee that runs the length of the building façade. Above the marquee is a glazed clerestory of multi-colored leaded glass. This glazing boasts an advertisement: “Havana Cigars LOVERA five cents.” Based on photographs from 1929 and 1936, this sign was already part of the building at least by the late 1920s. In general, the visual appearance of the storefront façade remains true to the historical building design, as does the entire façade. Inside on the ground floor, the metal pressed ceiling is also of note. Its decorative elements include repeated squares, which give the impression of a caisson ceiling and a wide and striking variety of intricate garland shapes, floral motifs and geometric patterns, in addition to an ornamental cove ceiling. 

Merchant’s Café has survived many obstacles like the Gold Rush, Prohibition, the Great Depression, a fire, and even the changing of ownership throughout the years. Merchant’s Café now welcomes women and children. All are welcome, including the ghosts. 

These days there isn't a brothel upstairs, however there is a boutique hotel and a bar downstairs which is a great place to lounge and drink. Inside the space on the ground floor you'll still find the intricately-carved bar that was shipped around Cape Horn in the late 1800s, the wooden floors, the pressed tin ceilings, and décor reminiscent of 1898.

At the back of the bar you still find the picture gallery that lumberjacks and miners pointed to as they chose their companion for the evening. One of those paintings, the "Oriental Girl", is said to be haunted.

Sources: Huffington Post, Merchant’s Cafe and Saloon, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

Cadillac Hotel

The Cadillac Hotel is located at 319 2nd Ave. S. in Pioneer Square.

The Cadillac Hotel was built in 1889 and is one of the first structures built after Seattle’s Great Fire. It was designed by James W. Hetherington.The Cadillac Hotel was the home of low wage workers who would provide goods and services to the fortune seekers making their way to the Klondike less than a decade later during the city’s gold rush boom. Diners and other businesses catering to the public occupied the lower floors.

A turbulent post World War II economy reduced the number of visitors and transient laborers passing through Pioneer Square. The neighborhood deteriorated and the Cadillac Hotel fell into disrepair as its vacancy rate soared. To halt the blight, Seattle established the Pioneer Square Preservation District in 1970. Unfortunately, the Ozark Hotel fire that same year resulted in many hotels closing off their sleeping areas instead installing costly fire sprinkler systems.

The three story building dates from right after the Great Fire of 1889. Like many buildings in Pioneer Square the building displays the Queen Anne - Richardsoniaon Romanesque style. It has exterior walls of red brick. It is distinctive because of its arched window openings and simple decorative brickwork. Engaged brick pilasters mark off vertical bays, while horizontal courses show the separation of floors, exhibiting the grid pattern typical of Victorian buildings found in the district from right after the 1889 Fire. The Cadillac Hotel was badly damaged by the February 28, 2001 Nisqually earthquake, and at risk for demolition due to high rehabilitation costs. In September 2001, Historic Seattle stepped forward with an alternate engineering plan that would preserve the building and reopened it in 2005. At the time of the Nisqually earthquake, the upper floors of the Cadillac Hotel had remained uninhabited for 31 years.

The Cadillac Hotel now serves as the permanent home for the National Park Service’s Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Ground and first floors of the building house exhibits commemorating and preserving the story of the rush to the Yukon gold fields in 1897-1898.

Sources: National Park Service, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Historic Seattle

J&M Hotel

The J&M Hotel building is located at 201 1st Ave S. in Pioneer Square.

Named the “J & H Hotel building” it was built for Captain J.H. Marshall after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. The King County Assessor’s Records indicates that there was an alteration in 1900, which may correspond to the third level of the building. Another report gives the date for the third floor addition as 1903. In July 25, 1889, the Post Intelligencer made clear that this was to be a utilitarian building: “Captain J. H. Marshall will erect a brick building on the southwest corner of Commercial and Washington Streets, which will be used by a wholesale business house...It will be built in a most substantial and durable manner and will present a massive and imposing appearance rather than ornamental.  Architects Comstock and Troetsche are preparing the plans. The building will cost about $ 20,000."  By the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, this building, like all the buildings on the block, was occupied by a business on the ground floor and a hotel on the top levels. 

Its ground floor business, at some point abbreviated to “J & M,” has been a bar and card room (when Seattle was a “wide-open” city and allowed card playing), since the Gold Rush. During the “wide-open” times, from 1906 to 1916, it was known simply as the “J & M Saloon.” Several versions of what “ J & M” stands for are documented: “Jamieson & Moffett,” “Jamieson and McFarland” (around 1901) and then “Joe and Mary McConagin.” In any case, the “ J & M” name appears to have been associated with the building for some time. Located on a block which included several hotels, in particular 213, 211 and 209 First Avenue, popular during the Gold Rush, its hotel, housed in the upper stories, also served the same sort of clientele. By 1921, the J & M Café sold “soft drinks” and meals. From 1936 to 1970, the hotel was officially known as the J & M Hotel. Its ceiling is pressed tin, rumored to have been installed by Italian craftsmen. The bar-back is made of Austrian mahogany — transported around the Cape in the late 1890s.

The building is typical of the buildings that were erected in 1889, right after the Great Fire of June 6, 1889. The shape and detailing of its second floor window openings, in particular, have a Victorian quality, characteristic of many buildings of this period in Seattle (and its environs). With the other buildings on the western block from Main Street to Washington Street, this building presents a unified façade and a powerful sense of early Seattle, as it rose from the ashes right after the Fire of 1889. The building, of course, is of the same construction type as these buildings: brick exterior walls with heavy timber construction on its interior.

Like many other spaces in Pioneer Square, the J&M was thought to be haunted. In 2015, a ritual to remove ghosts and other paranormal presences took place as reported on by Crosscut.

In recent years, the J&M offered a slice of old Seattle to locals and visitors alike. Today, the J&M Café and Cardroom is temporarily closed as of October 2020.

Sources: Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, J&M Café, Crosscut