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CHS Re:Take | Thank Quinault for all the fresh, dried and smoked fish

It’s not clear why the 1925 apartment building at Boylston and Mercer was named Quinault. Was it named after the tribe in Grays Harbor County in an attempt to give thanks to native peoples? If so, it’s no longer much of an honor.

The building was fabulous to begin with. An article announcing its opening in the 1925 Seattle Times had this to say:

“The most attractive, comfortable and modern apartment it was possible to produce. The Quinault presents many advanced ideas in planning and engineering… Each apartment is equipped with Murphy in-a-dor beds with double deck coil springs, said to be the last word in sleeping comfort. The corridor doors are of genuine Philippine mahogany of Laminex construction, their vertical ribbon grain harmonizing with the general interior. Halls are unusually wide, while each stair landing forms a lobby.”

The brick facade still looks attractive from the street. But the decades haven’t been kind to the interior of the Quinault. In a 2006 article titled Uneasy Living The Stranger writer Eli Sanders described it unflatteringly: “The building’s coherence ends at the front steps. Inside, a thick orange-and-red carpet with a loud 1970s geometric pattern spreads out…” A commenter named Quinault Ruined My Life added to the post in 2009, “The place is a dump, nothing is ever fixed, there’s dog shit in the hallways.”

Other commenters across the Internet share the sentiment. One on in 2010 said with relief, “I’m lucky that I haven’t had as many problems as other people (no cave-ins yet)… Everything about it is cheap.” In 2011, a Yelp commenter confirmed that there were still untrained dogs, “Watch your step. Some residents in the building think it’s okay for their dogs to shit in the hall without cleaning it up.”

Naming rights
Where could the name have come from? The original owners had no obvious connection to the Quinault Indian Nation, their reservation north of Aberdeen, or the national forest land (now national park) just east of the reservation. Several events in 1924 put Quinault into headlines, though, and may have inspired the name.

The Lake Quinault hotel burned in August 1924. Construction of the current lodge designed by Robert Reamer was underway when our apartment house opened.

Seattle photographer Asahel Curtis led an expedition to the headwaters of the Quinault River. It was funded by Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce to reveal the beauty of the nearby Olympic Mountains. Asahel’s brother Edward Curtis is more famous today but Asahel left a richer legacy for Seattle with his urban photography. He also created many landscape and outdoor photos such as this series.

Lake Quinault by Asahel Curtis (Washington State Library)

Lake Quinault from forest service campground by Asahel Curtis (Washington State Archives)

Construction began on the section of the Olympic Highway, now US 101, from the Hoh River (south of Forks) to the Quinault reservation.

Olympic Highway west of Port Angeles by Asahel Curtis (Washington State Archives)

Olympic Highway west of Port Angeles by Asahel Curtis (Washington State Archives)

The true inspiration is a mystery. Particularly at this time of Thanksgiving, though, it’s best to focus on first peoples. A Seattle Times article from 1921 just before construction of the apartment building made the point well. In the midst of discussing developments with the Quinault treaties and rights, it captured the importance of native peoples to the economy of Washington. In Coll Thrush’s Native Seattle, he discussed that the impact of native peoples on Seattle had petered out by the 1920s. But this quote shows that in parts of Western Washington it was still just as strong:

“In every city and town I visited I saw Indians at work and talked to a number, who told me that Indians, like white men, are leaving the rural districts in increasing numbers for the cities. The automobile industry in all its branches seems to be particularly attractive to them. The largest garage in Marysville is owned and operated by an Indian. I talked with Indians at work on city docks, in railroad yards, and trucking in wholesale stores. The Indians find ready employment in logging camps, sawmills, and canneries. They are employed by contractors on public roads and are petty officers, engineers, firemen and deck hands on Puget Sound steamers. Auto stages and long-haul motor trucks have Indians as chauffeurs. Indians are of considerable importance in the manufacturing, commercial and transportation industries of Western Washington.


“But fishing is the mainstay of Indian livelihood and salmon is their principal product. Most of them are fish-eating Indians, and salmon, fresh, dried and smoked, is the base of their food supply, particularly of the Indians who live on the Pacific Coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. When they have money they are good customers of storekeepers, who told me they are discriminating buyers of fine groceries, meats and vegetables.”

Here’s a thank you to native people, all that they’ve dealt with and all that they’ve contributed. And hopefully we can all start taking better care of the stuff we name after them.

Recently on Re:Take

This article is an expansion of a 2010 article by Rob Ketcherside for a now-zombied local blog.

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2 thoughts on “CHS Re:Take | Thank Quinault for all the fresh, dried and smoked fish

  1. I’m wondering if the comment about Coll Thrush’s book, Native Seattle, isn’t taken out of context. The entire aim of the book is to dispel the Myth of the Vanishing Race and to show the impact and influence Native Americans have had throughout the history of Seattle and even to this day. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend reading it. (Though I don’t recommend using the link provided, it’s available at the Elliott Bay Book Compamy.)

    • SMAJ, thanks for sharing your thoughts and keeping me honest on the book link.

      My comment on Native Seattle is poorly worded, but I meant to highlight chapter five of the book. Thrush describes how by 1920 Native people no longer had the visible presence in Seattle that previously defined the city. The paragraph before and after the break of page 79 says: “By the 1920s, in fact, indigenous Seattle — the geographies and communities that predated the founding of the city — would come to an end, even if Indian Seattle would not… The Indian people who remained in Seattle, meanwhile, became almost invisible as they adapted to life in a new metropolis.”

      I find the quote fascinating that I included from the 1921 Seattle Times because it describes Native people employed in regular jobs, just as they were in Seattle. But the author noticed their frequency as he traveled small towns (perhaps those newly connected by the Olympic Highway?) and took time to talk with them.

      This is at odds with the image of Seattle that Coll Thrush paints later in the book. The opening to chapter eight describes “accommodation to urban change in Puget Sound” in contrast to “near total-dispossession… from Seattle’s urban landscape.”

      If you have different interpretations of Thrush’s great work, please share them. I have faith in my intentions and effort and hope when the results miss the mark someone will correct me!