In the midst of the Roaring Twenties, on December 6, 1924, more than two thousand guests celebrated the opening of Seattle’s Olympic Hotel with a dinner and dance that was the year’s most Gatsbyesque gala west of the Mississippi.
Built of Belgian marble and granite with buff-colored brick in an Italian Renaissance style, The Olympic remained the de facto cocktail and supper club for Seattle’s high society throughout the Twenties. Guests at The Olympic entered into a majestic wood-paneled lobby of American oak, hung with massive chandeliers, before proceeding to several ballrooms or the various restaurants serviced by the hotel’s five kitchens.
The undisputed “Grande Dame” of Seattle hotels, The Olympic has hosted numerous celebrities and royals, including Joan Crawford, Elvis Presley, Prince Philip of Great Britain, and the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan. From President Herbert Hoover onward, every American president has occupied the hotel’s Presidential Suite, including JFK in 1961.
Given its illustrious history, it’s no surprise that The Olympic was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and is also a member of Historic Hotels of America.
A Fairmont property since 2003, The Fairmont Olympic Hotel is located in the heart of downtown Seattle on the original site of the University of Washington. What was once the city’s Metropolitan Theatre is now the hotel’s drive and formal entrance.
To enter into The Fairmont Olympic’s sumptuous lobby with its gilded columns and golden chandeliers is to recall anew the wealth that flowed into Seattle during the Klondike Gold Rush. With its grand staircases and a mezzanine loggia made for evening promenades, it’s not hard to imagine the likes of Edith Wharton and Henry James gossiping happily on a velvet settee amidst the potted palms and enormous floral arrangements.
Suites at the 450-room hotel are furnished in a manner befitting a hotel with such Old World provenance. Walnut furniture and upholstered couches and chairs are accented with needlepoint pillows and gilt-framed cartography. Damask valances frame the windows and complement the wallpaper. In rooms like these, there are only two cocktail choices: a gin Martini or a Brandy Alexander.
Dining options at The Fairmont Olympic Hotel include Seattle’s oldest oyster bar, Shuckers, with its tin ceiling and carved oak paneling or the hotel’s more formal restaurant, The Georgian, which features an amalgam of Pacific Northwest and French-inspired cuisine in one of the city’s most romantic dining rooms.
Off the lobby, the hotel’s Garden Room is framed by huge arched Palladian windows. If you should find yourself in this sanctuary on a sunny Seattle morning, enjoying the bounty of the Northwest as prepared by Executive Chef Gavin Stephenson, you’ll probably want to raise your glass of freshly-squeezed tangerine juice and toast to the Roaring Twenties and the visionaries who created such a remarkable hotel.