Time to Save The Hahn Building, NOW

By Ruth Danner, President – Save the Market Entrance

The following is part of a series of guest blog posts submitted by members of the Historic Seattle community. The views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Historic Seattle. As part of our mission, Historic Seattle is supporting Save the Market Entrance’s advocacy and communications work to landmark the Hahn Building.

With ground floor storefronts built in 1897 and two floors for workforce housing added in 1908, the Hahn Building/Hotel Elliott stands proudly at the southeast corner of Seattle’s intersection of First and Pike, at the main entrance to Pike Place Market. While Pike Place Market is a designated City of Seattle historic district (Pike Place Market Historical District) and listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Pike Place Market Historic District, the historic buildings on the east side of First Avenue have been left to fend for themselves.

Its historic timeline goes back to the early 1880s arrival of Robert Hahn. In 1889, at the time of the Great Seattle Fire that devastated most of Pioneer Square, Hahn operated a wood-frame saloon and beer garden on this site. After the fire, it was said to be the last place standing for a man to buy a beer.  Following the fire, wood structures were out and brick was in, and in 1897, Hahn built the structure under nomination as a one-story, brick building.

A decade later, two stories were added to the existing structure just as Seattle prepared for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. Those two new floors were dubbed Hotel Elliott, which provided private semi-permanent housing for Seattle’s growing workforce, one of the first single-room-occupancy (SRO) hotels to offer private baths with running hot and cold water. The Hahn Building/Hotel Elliott is prominently featured in historic photos of the Market Entrance across the decades. Along with the Hotel Elliott, the ground floor has retail has hosted a number of commercial ventures—from long-time tenant Owl Drugs to the infamous International Donut Shop.

In the massive reinvigoration on Pike Place Market in the 70s, blacktopping on Pike Place from Pike to Virginia was returned to its former bricked cobblestones out to and including the intersection at 1st and Pike that tied the four corners of the Market together. In 1981, the Hahn family, perhaps inspired by the market’s facelift and newly returning popularity undertook a beautiful, historically sensitive remodel. Identifying Hotel Elliott as affordable housing, the City of Seattle allocated $500,000 to reinforce the structure with seismic retrofitting. Hotel rooms continue to occupy the upper two floors operating as the Green Tortoise Hostel since 2005.

Twice since the current owners purchased the Hahn in 1986, they have presented the Landmarks Preservation Board with anti-nominations designed to argue against historic significance in an effort to clear the way for future demolition (in 1999 and again in 2014). But the five-year limit in the Landmark Preservation Ordinance that precludes another nomination to be considered has passed (as of December 2019), and the door is open for the public to argue their own case for the importance this building plays to our city and beyond.

The Hahn Building is not currently protected, and the current owner has plans to demolish the Hahn building and replace it with a 14-story boutique hotel. On December 2, at 3:30 pm the Landmarks Preservation Board will meet to consider our nomination, which we submitted in December 2019. We hired Katie Pratt and Spencer Howard of NW Vernacular Historic Preservation to dig a little deeper into the Hahn’s history and importance at this important intersection. What they found is compelling. Preservation of this building is essential to the symmetry and historical authenticity to this treasured four corner Market entrance and intersection.

We need your help! Please send written comments in support of landmarking to Sarah Sodt, the City of Seattle Historic Preservation Officer, via sarah.sodt@seattle.gov by or before Tuesday, December 1.  Comments must relate to one or more of the six criteria for landmark nomination/designation. More information is available here.

Photo by Shree Ram Dahal