Photo: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia
The 27 terra cotta walrus masks surrounding the third floor of the Arctic Building in Downtown Seattle are hard to miss. You may have had a drink there at the “Polar Bar”, dined in the “Juno Restaurant”, or even attended a wedding in the “Northern Lights Dome Room.” But did you know the structure is 100 years old? The Arctic Building was first built in 1916 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
It all began with The Arctic Club, a social institution for the men who returned from the Yukon gold rush. Most explorers who headed north found no gold, but a small percentage did strike it rich. The Arctic Club, originally located in the Morrison Hotel, provided an exclusive social community for those Seattleites who had returned from the Alaska Gold Rush with money to burn.
Photo: Joe Szilagyi/Flickr
According to Historylink, the Arctic Club’s “entertainment committee put on ‘Smokers,’ an annual grand ball, and golf and bowling tournaments. Club members also participated in civic events, such as the Potlatch of 1912 and subsequent Sea-Fair activities. Although the club was organized as a gentlemen’s club, ladies were accommodated from the very beginning with a space of their own in the club rooms and invitations to many events.”
As the group expanded, they needed a bigger space to socialize and conduct business. Club member James Moses decided to finance a new building with profits from his pottery business. Moses originally emigrated from Ireland to Trenton, New Jersey, in 1864, joining his older brother John in the pottery business. He bought the Mercer Pottery Company in 1873 and made a fortune with a new line of Mercer china created in time for the 1876 Centennial.
The nine-story Arctic Building was inspired by the Alaskan frontier and designed by one of Seattle’s leading architects, Augustus Warren Gould, working with architect George W. Lawton. Except for interior finishes for the club rooms, the Arctic Building was built entirely by Seattle professionals.
The contractors adorned the columns and beams with ornamental plasterwork on the main floor to create an Alaskan feel. The most spectacular feature of the club, and today of the hotel, is the Northern Lights Dome Room — a large space of some 60 by 60 feet covered by a stained glass dome.
By 1996, the walrus heads were not looking too cool. One fell, prompting the city to declare the walrus tusks a public safety hazard. In October 1996, the City took bids to repair the walrus heads. Nine were sawed off and replaced, and the balance of the 27 heads were cleaned and restored.
Photo: John Henderson/Flickr
Today, the Arctic Building is home to a luxurious Doubletree hotel where you can enjoy your stay with family, friends and/or your favorite walrus!