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Capitol Retrospective | 1827 Broadway Part One: A house divided

The saying “a house divided against itself cannot stand” rings true for many as the Brexit controversy continues to unfold.  Now that’s not to say that I expect Britain to fall, but it’s just that whenever the iconic phrase is invoked, it often, if not always, comes packaged with the assumption that the house in question is necessarily better off united rather than divided.  Not always so.  And such, I hope, will be the case here as I experiment with looking at the history of 1827 Broadway (now a light rail entrance) in parts rather than as a whole as I’ve done with other buildings before.  And such was the case similarly for its first occupants, two grocers, the brothers Peter and Nicholas Kootros of Sparta, Greece whose dramatic falling out with other family members and eventually with each other, lead them each to greater success.

The D.C. Days

1915 Shorpy - George Chaconas in Washington DC

George Chaconas, circa 1915. Image: Shorpy

As it appears, Peter immigrated to the U.S. in early 1900 while Nicholas followed later that year passing through Ellis Island.  Their destination was Washington D.C. where many Greek immigrants had been gathering.  Prominent among those was the Chaconas family who had been in D.C. since the early 1890s and had carved out a small, rough and tumble, commercial empire in the push-cart fruit business there.  In a word, they were hucksters.  As such, they frequently sent for younger relatives from the old country to join the business with vague promises of wealth, opportunity, and independence that often resulted in stolen wages, fines, cuts and bruises, and even jail-time. But to them it was all just the cost of doing business.

HEC/42900/42919a.tif

A Chaconas produce cart circa 1919. Image: Shorpy.

Peter didn’t take well to these conditions and was rather hot-headed and stubborn. After his first year on the job and many heated arguments, he apparently smashed a beer bottle over George Chaconas’ head ending their partnership.  In contrast, it seems Nicholas, may have been a little more reserved and conflict-averse. Instead of getting into fights, the court hit him with a $25 fine for using a rigged scale in 1904.  He claimed ignorance and given that this wasn’t the first time a Chaconas employee was busted for the same crime, he was likely telling the truth or at worst was put up to it and didn’t want to make a stink about it like his brother.

In any case, sometime not long after Peter got into yet another fight with another member of the Chaconas family in 1905, it seems he and Nicholas decided they’d had enough and set out to Seattle for a fresh start.

Kootros Brothers Grocery

It isn’t clear exactly when Peter and Nicholas arrived, but by late 1908 they had set up the Kootros Brothers grocery at 1833 Broadway and took up residence at 1010 E Denny Way.  This time they didn’t have to deal with illegally stationed push carts, fines, and barroom brawls with sheisty employers turned competitors.  Instead they had a quiet corner store like any other and their rough days with the Chaconas family were behind them.  Success came easily from here on out because after only a couple years they were ready to expand.

1913-11-26 Nicholas Kootros and Kitty Wheeler Wedding Portrait

Kitty and Nicholas, 1913. Courtesy Kootros Family.

In 1910, a mysterious traveling salesman from San Francisco by the name of Joseph E Dixon, who had decided to dabble a bit real estate here, filed plans with the city to build an adjacent storefront at 1827 Broadway.  It being roughly three times the size of their initial grocery store, the brothers jumped at the opportunity and quickly became Dixon’s first tenant. Business continued to grow and so did the family.  By November of 1913 they opened a second location at Broadway and Pine and Nicholas met and married a woman named Kitty Wheeler who’d recently moved to Seattle from Warsaw, Indiana.  Peter was also married around this time to a woman named Rosa, but without a marriage certificate on hand, it’s hard to give a precise date.

Despite everything looking great on paper at this point, alas, conflict was just around the corner.  As the family story goes, sometime between 1914 and 1915 the brothers had a falling out, but for reasons unknown.  Perhaps after all their success, they couldn’t agree where to take the business next and perhaps Peter, being the more aggressive of the two, was a bit more controlling than Nicholas could bear.  In any case, they parted ways, though curiously they continued to live on the same block of 12th Ave for several more years so perhaps their falling out was more business-related than anything else.

Getzs & Lewis

Getzs Portrait

William Getzs. Image: Seattle Times.

Once the word was out, another grocery concern who had taken the 1833 Broadway space the Kootros brothers left back in 1911, offered to move in and hire Nicholas as their clerk while Peter took up employment elsewhere and began to regroup. The new concern was that of William Getzs, formerly a millwright and contractor who built houses and his recent son-in-law and business partner Wilbert Lewis a recent college graduate from a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Unfortunately, after only a few years, the concern dissolved with Getzs returning to his work as a millwright and Lewis shipping off to Alaska to work as a surveyor so he could continue to support his family.  In the meantime, Peter had started his own business, the Washington Fruit and Produce Company based out of Pike Place Market and bought a house in West Seattle, so he was doing well.

Attempting To Bury The Hatchet

Peter Kootros Portrait - 1

Peter Kootros, middle-aged. Courtesy Kootros family.

As opportunities for Nicholas to remain on the Hill seemingly dwindled, an automotive concern named Cordes & Sons Auto Repair had taken over the lease at 1827 Broadway, he gave business with his brother another chance and joined him down at Pike Place at some point in the 1920s. And with kids in tow, he even bought a house of his own near Peter’s in West Seattle, so it seems he’d been doing well for himself too.  However, by 1927 Peter and Nicholas parted ways yet again.  Peter’s heart was set on the wholesale business and joining the ranks of produce row on Western Ave whereas Nicholas wanted to stay put in the retail business at Pike Place.  Perhaps this was the source of their tension the first time around as evidenced by Nicholas’ decision to stay on with Getzs & Lewis.  Whatever the reason, they both went on to be successful in their own way and managed to remain wealthy throughout the depression. In fact, Nicholas is known to have bought a new car almost every year and when Peter died in 1954, he left an estate to his heirs estimated to be worth as much as $200,000 which is worth roughly $1.8 million today when adjusted for inflation.

Nicholas Kootros at Pike Place Market

John Kootros, left and his father Nicholas at Pike Place, circa 1935-1940. Courtesy Kootros family.

Ultimately the produce businesses that Peter and Nicholas spent their whole lives building followed them to the grave as Peter never had any children and Nicholas’ children, while occasionally working with their father down at Pike Place, never took much interest and eventually moved on to other things.  Perhaps they learned a lesson from their father and uncle that sometimes, when it comes to business, houses are better off divided.

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About Tom Heuser

I'm a co-founder of the Capitol Hill Historical Society and I occasionally research and write about neighborhood history for my column "The Capitol Retrospective" featured here on Capitol Hill Seattle and on my website tgheuser.co. You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I share additional content.
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5 thoughts on “Capitol Retrospective | 1827 Broadway Part One: A house divided

  1. I was going to say how remarkable it must have been to travel from DC to Seattle in 1905, but of course they’d already made it all the way from Greece in the first place, so the cross-country trip may not have been such a big deal.

    I enjoy these stories, thanks for sharing.

    • The Great Northern railroad had reached Seattle in 1893, and well before 1905 there was an Express train direct to Seattle from St. Paul. So the trip west would have been significantly less uncomfortable (and considerably more scenic) than the ocean voyage from Greece, particularly since their steamship berths were probably in steerage.

      Since people reading this piece on CHS are clearly interested in history, here’s a fun retrospective from 1952: http://www.gngoat.org/seattle.htm

  2. “…Greece whose dramatic falling out with other family members and eventually with each other, lead them each to greater success.”

    Typo, Should be “led” not “lead”