Just a clear group of photographs from Spring 1920 and 1921 exploring the busy intersection of Jefferson, Broadway, Pacific and the storied Prairie Line. The constant in all these views is the Carlton Hotel, built in 1909 by the brewery mogul Anton Huth and named after his son. Fellow German immigrant Carl August Darmer, perhaps Tacoma’s most notable architect of the era, was commissioned to design the six story building and it opened just as Tacoma was entering a booming period of prosperity and population growth. The imposing new passenger station for the Northern Pacific Railroad was about to begin construction on Pacific Avenue, moving traveler arrivals away from the Prairie Line and the Carlton but by then intersecting streetcar lines and a cluster of ethnic hotels and social clubs secured the important location of the fashionable new hotel.
1909 was a lively year for the city and a boom time for breweries. Anton Huth and his partner started the Puget Sound Brewery 1888, and built it into the massive Pacific Brewing & Malting Complex at 25th and Holgate. He was a major shareholder in the Columbia Brewery (which would make Heidelberg Beer after prohibition) and owned breweries in Everett and San Francisco. As Huth’s Pacific Brewing & Malting Company grew into the second largest brewery in the Pacific Northwest he began to expand his investments by purchasing commercial real estate (including the Huth Building at 15th and Pacific where the Pacific Grill is today and the face of Anton is said to be carved into the stonework).
But Tacoma and the Northwest were also moving into the progressive era adopting women’s suffrage, citizen launched political actions like initiative and referendum and the political machine busting hammer of recall ( which Tacoma used quickly to throw Mayor Angelo Fawcett out of office in 1911). Prohibition was a quickly closing threat to men like Anton Huth and he may have built the fine new hotel as an insurance policy against the risk of militant tea totallers and the determination of the Anti Saloon League. Huth lived to see beer and liquor manufacturing outlawed in Washington State (November 3, 1914) and the closure of Tacoma’s many legitimate saloons on December 31, 1915. After overseeing the conversions of his Tacoma breweries into soft drink, near beer and soda pop producers Anton passed away in September of 1916.
Carlton Huth took over the family businesses including the grand hotel that was named after him. He quickly sold it in February 1918 just as Fort Lewis was being built and the first world war was about to begin. By the time these photographs were taken, the Carlton Hotel was the centerpiece of Tacoma’s traveler district with Japantown uphill and to the North, little Italy to the east and the industrial warehouse district to the south. Hotels, halls and boarding houses in the district tended to cater to specific ethnicities and cultures-Swiss Hall (Swiss), Massasoit Hotel (French), Savoy (English), Grand, Superior, Hiroshima and Columbus (Japanese), Normanna Hall (Norwegian) and several others. The Carlton Hotel played down its German
origins during the war but the dining room menu continued to feature weiner schnitzel and very good quality, discretely served, lagers throughout prohibition.
In the early 1920s Tacoma’s streetscapes were full of horse drawn wagons, overhead catenary lines, crowded streetcars and a few odd automobiles. By the end of the decade cars and trucks were choking the streets and presaging the day when Union Station, railroads and streetcars would begin to fade along with the surrounding neighborhood. But in March 1920, the bustling Broadway streetcar ran from a main stop at 9th in the theatre district to the handsome Carlton Hotel at 17th running past Tacoma’s finest department stores and loftiest skyscrapers.
In 1925 the brand new Winthrop Hotel opened at 9th and Broadway complete with a parking garage and rooftop radio station. The distance from Union Station was a sign that automobiles were becoming the first choice of business travelers and tourists. A decade later on October 17, 1935, the venerable but aging Tacoma Hotel was destroyed by fire and the great depression cut deep into Tacoma’s hotel trade that once relied on proximity to the main streetcar lines, passenger ferries and Union Station.
Its safe to assume that the Billiard Hall and soft drink parlor on the Jefferson front of the Carlton Hotel honored the tradition of its builder and served adult beverages during prohibition. Its location close to the warehouse district provided one stream of customers while the train station traffic provided another. Like most of Tacoma’s hotels, the Carlton began to show its age but during the Second World War it was busy with military and wartime industry guests. When the war ended the sturdy brick building with its novel bay windows found itself in a ghost town. The once thriving Japantown that surrounded it remained empty as most of the Japanese American merchants and neighbors in nihonmachi never returned.
In 1949 the building was ominously sold to one of Tacoma’s best known organized crime figures, Frank Magrini, who changed the name to the Hotel Earle. He oversaw the remodel of the lobby and rooms settling in
new ground floor tenants and establishing his own private office. After several run ins with the police and his underworld adversary Vito Catone along with a serious fire in July 1956 Magrini put the building up for sale. He sold it in February 1957 but the newspapers and rap sheets continued to report on the increasingly rough downtown hotel and the notorious 1555 Broadway Tavern at the south end. After almost 30 years as a cheap hotel the Carlton was rehabbed into fresh offices and retail spaces in 1985. The City of Tacoma purchased the building in 2003 then sold it to Tacoma developer and philanthropist Fred Roberson who in turn has gifted it to the University of Washington Tacoma.