Seattle writer and historian Dotty DeCoster has been nice enough to share many of her essays and reports with CHS over the years. She first published this piece in 2009 — we’ve updated it and are happy to share it with readers again as Gilda’s Club prepares for its first ever Red Door campaign.
By Dotty DeCoster
This story is about the building at 1400 Broadway (corner of Union) that is home to Gilda’s Club of Seattle. It is the only Greek Revival edifice in the immediate neighborhood, and the front doors are bright red. The outside of the building is much as it was when it was built in 1912 and Johnson & Hamilton moved up from First Avenue. Until 1965, the building was the Johnson & Hamilton funeral parlor.
Charles F. Johnson and his wife Sophia, and Frank Hamilton and his wife Crissie Rankin Hamilton came to Seattle from Fargo, North Dakota, and set up the third mortuary in Seattle at 2127 First Avenue in 1902. Apparently, the families had met in Fargo – the Hamiltons were originally from Ontario and the Johnsons from Minneapolis. It is likely that by 1911 the confusion and mess generated by the regrades downtown impelled Johnson & Hamilton to look for a new site for their business. 1400 Broadway was a vacant lot right on a streetcar line with a livery stable behind it (east) and automobile garages to the north and northeast. Architect Daniel Riggs Huntington designed the building and it appears likely that the builder was William W. Noyes.
Daniel R. Huntington, A.I.A., (1871-1962) had a long and distinguished architectural career in Seattle, including serving as City Architect for a time. He was also a distinguished painter. On Capitol Hill, in addition to the Johnson-Hamilton building, he designed Fire Station #7 at 402 15th Avenue E., the Rainier Chapter House of the Daughters of the American Revolution at 800 E. Roy, the Norcliffe Apartments at 1119 Boren, and his own residence at 1800 E. Shelby.
First known as undertakers, then as funeral parlors, finally as a funeral home, the Johnson & Hamilton business continued until the mid-1920s.
Charles F. Johnson died in 1920 and his wife, Sofia Johnson, became active in the business. She seems to have taken over, for a while, living in the building and commissioning a new building on E. Madison Street at 11th Avenue which was completed and functioning as Johnson & Hamilton in 1926. She had found a new partner in George E. Hill, who was president of the company then. By November of 1926, however, Frank Hamilton had also found new partners, Gus Johnson (Charles F.’s brother) and Mary F. Harold, and they took back control of the Johnson & Hamilton business at 1400 Broadway while Sophia Johnson, her new partners and two sons, moved on to the new mortuary on Madison, renamed Johnson & Sons.
In1929, C.B. Bagley described Johnson & Hamilton: “The establishment is complete in every detail, there being a large chapel, slumber rooms, show room, operating and preparation room. Hamilton & Company have their own rolling stock and deservedly occupy a place of leadership among funeral directors of Seattle.” There was apparently also a small apartment as funeral homes are open 24 hours a day, and both Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Johnson lived there from time to time.
The funeral of William M. Coombs in September of 1934 was held at Johnson & Hamilton parlors. Mr. Coombs (1862-1934) was born in Seattle and spent his life on the water as a maritime engineer. He had been financial secretary and treasurer of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, No. 38 for nearly 26 years at his death. “The funeral was attended by large numbers of seafaring and waterfront men and by many other friends.” (The Marine Digest, 9/15/1934)
Frank Hamilton died in 1941, and his widow and son, Gordon F. Hamilton, continued the business with Mary F. Harold and Gus Johnson’s widow, Flora H. Johnson. By 1954, Mrs. Gus Johnson, Mary F. Harold, and Robert T. Maag ran the business, and advertised a “Colonial Chapel”. In 1959 the building was purchased by D.K. Moore, but the business continued. By 1964, Carl C. Christensen was in charge. In 1966 the building was vacant. From 1968 until 1980, Harry Holland and Helene Beckelman ran an advertising business and a trading company in the building. There was also a Broadway Beauty Shop during the early years of their tenure. 1981-84 was the time of La Mar S. Efaw and Marlys H. Efaw with La Mar Efaw Int. Then in 1985, Thomas J. Chambers opened his law office there and bought the building. Not until 2000 did the law offices (and classic cars) leave. In 2003, Gilda’s Club of Seattle was able to purchase the building that they had been occupying since their inception.
In 2002, the front doors were painted red, and Gilda’s Club of Seattle, founded and directed by Anna Gottlieb, welcomed men, women and children living with cancer, and their families and friends. It still does, free of charge. See www.gildasclubseattle.org for information and a current schedule – and to find out why it is called “Gilda’s Club.”