Washington Hall purchased by Historic Seattle

Central District landmark that hosted Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, and Martin Luther King will find new life as an updated performance hall.
Crosscut archive image.

Washington Hall in Seattle's Central District. (Chuck Taylor)

Central District landmark that hosted Billie Holiday, Jimi Hendrix, and Martin Luther King will find new life as an updated performance hall.

Historic Seattle, the non-profit, public development authority that saves historic buildings and gives them life with new uses, has purchased the landmark Washington Hall for $1.5 million from the Sons of Haiti masonic organization. The deal closed today (June 12). Washington Hall was listed on the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation's most endangered list in 2008 and was designated a city landmark earlier this year.

The hall has an amazing history, and is probably one of the most multi-cultural landmarks in the city. It was built in 1908 by the Danish Brotherhood and later purchased by the Sons of Haiti. In addition to hosting a wide array of arts, cultural, community, and religious groups and events over the years, it was a legendary venue for music and politics in the African American dominated Central District. Musicians and speakers who have appeared at the hall include Marian Anderson, Mahalia Jackson, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Jimi Hendrix, W.E.B. du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Joe Louis, and Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2007, concerns overs its future were raised when the building went on the market and it appeared that it would probably be sold and demolished. The hall had seriously deteriorated and the cost of fixing and maintaining it were too high for the Sons of Haiti. At least five interested buyers of the property indicated they planned to tear it down. News of that helped to galvanize the city's preservation community.

Historic Seattle hopes to keep Washington Hall going as a non-profit performing arts center (it was previously home to On the Boards). It will take money and commitment to make major fixes and upgrades. Mark Blatter of Historic Seattle says his group raised the purchase price with a loan from Key Bank and grants from Historic Seattle and 4Culture. In preservation projects, funds usually come from a variety of sources, often including public funds, tax credits, private donations, and loans. Historic Seattle's rehab of the Cadillac Hotel in Pioneer Square is a recent example of what can be done.

Blatter says that between now and September, Historic Seattle will work on the first phase of building repairs, including clean-up, safety and security systems, roof repairs, new baths, electrical and heating system upgrades, repairs to windows and doors, and the like. A capital campaign is envisioned to help with other major improvements to the facility. A grand re-opening has not yet been scheduled.


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.