Over the summer, CHS reported on an amazing move for a longtime Capitol Hill business. Doghouse’s Leather’s leather and kink retail project is making plans to bring life back to a 107-year-old Pike/Pine building with a (probably) racy past. As part of his plan to restore the 1911-built 715 E Pike Neal Apartments building into the new home of Doghouse Leathers, owner Jeff Henness invited the Capitol Hill Historical Society in to see the structure’s old bones and dig into its colorful past.
By Jo Wellington and the Capitol Hill Historical Society
Doghouse Leathers is a business native to Capitol Hill. It has provided fetish gear and custom leather pieces to the queer male community for many years. However, Doghouse is more than a sex shop. It has provided a community center for many groups over the years, as magazines, activism groups, and others met in the private back room. Jeff Henness, who opened the business in 2006, clearly makes an effort to support that community. He has been in Seattle since the 1980s and has an extensive knowledge of the local people and history.
All of this makes Henness an exciting person to renovate 715 E Pike St. He has a vision of a building that fits in on the block aesthetically, and maintains as much of the original material as possible.
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The upstairs is a 6 unit apartment building, and the downstairs is a 3600 square foot retail space that is currently unoccupied. The walls are brick and the floor is still raw wood. Original windows make up the storefront, although some are boarded up and many are cracked. A stage stretches across the back wall. It is framed with heavy trim that gives the appearance of a picture frame. Unsubstantiated rumors of a burlesque hall linger around the stage. It is easy to imagine the space as it once was, when the wide window front welcomed customers in.
Henness wants to welcome those customers back to his shop. The front will be restored as close to the original as possible, and new wood framing will be added to keep it in style with the storefronts on either side. The wood floors will be fixed up and the brick walls will be scrubbed clean and left exposed. The stage will be taken out to make room for a studio space and a meeting room in the back half of the floor. The groups that rely on the current Doghouse Leather space to meet will have a new space that is larger and now ADA compliant. Recovery groups, clubs, and classes will all be welcome. Creating a space like this is vital for maintaining the history and culture of Capitol Hill.
715 E Pike, a brief history
The building was built in 1911. Around that time, the existing building was raised and a retail space was built underneath it as the new ground floor. This is the space that Henness plans to renovate. Frank Brockman owned the building and oversaw the remodel. At the end of 1911, Elite Amusement Co purchased it with plans to convert it to a silent movie theater. Presumably, the stage was part of this renovation and was originally meant to hold a screen.
However, it appears the plan either fell through or was short-lived because by 1913 Orlando T Clark, owner of the Peerless Tire Protector Co (later named the O.T. Clark Co) rented out the space instead. However, the stage survived and lived on likely as a display case for tires.
Clark married Broadway High School teacher Nellie Kenaga in 1911. They lived nearby on Capitol Hill and were an integral part of the community. Nellie served as president of the Seattle Shakespeare Company and remained involved in the school board after her retirement from teaching. In 1918 she petitioned the school board for equal pay for men and women teachers. (Further research suggests that the women were denied equal pay and also denied a $300 war bonus awarded to the male teachers). She died in 1922. Orlando died much later in 1939 and, at this point, Albert Christiansen, an employee of his, had taken over the tire business until World War II.
Records are almost nonexistent during WWII, but we do know it served as a restaurant. We found a permit for a hood vent installation, and also a Seattle Times sale ad for a walk in cooler after the war. Possibly this is when the rumored burlesque shows occurred. If the tire company had left, the stage would be empty for performers to provide diners some much needed levity. We certainly don’t have any evidence to disprove this.
After the war, Wolfstone Sales Co moved in to resell furniture leftover from liquidations and bankruptcies until the spring of 1948. After this the space sat vacant until briefly hosting a toy repair shop for Christmas of 1951. After that, it became an auction house in 1952.
This, too, was short lived, because in 1954 A. Buono Cabinet Works moved in. The owner, Nick Buono, ran for City Council with a platform of expanding Seattle’s industry. He was not endorsed by the municipal council, and was ultimately not elected. His business was closed by 1968, but probably closer to 1962, which is when Henness heard the space had become vacant again. In 1968, a stash of pot, LSD, and meth was found in the downstairs, and the space was being used by teenage squatters. No more details could be found about the incident.
After that drug bust, the space was abandoned. It’s unclear why it remained vacant for so long–with Babeland and Pike Motorworks on the same block, it is easy to see that the area is primed for shopping. We can say we’re hopeful that Doghouse Leather will revitalize the building, and we look forward to another century of serving the Capitol Hill community.