Terracotta walrus heads protrude menacingly from the third-floor facade at Third and Cherry, their tusks long as an infant’s arm. The walruses are a clue to the building’s origin as headquarters for the Arctic Club, a social group founded by men who made good during the Gold Rush. The club first operated out of a building at Third and Jefferson but, in 1917, moved to the Third and Cherry location, custom built with a polar bear over the entrance (since removed), rooms for billiards and cards, a barbershop, a bowling alley, and, of course, those walruses. By then the group had become one of the most important clubs in Seattle, a place where prominent men brokered business and political deals, celebrated their successes, and dreamed big about the city’s future.
But it was also a place where dreams died. In 1936, two-term U.S. congressional representative Marion Zioncheck ran a reelection campaign from the fifth floor that should have highlighted his work as a champion of the poor, but instead was overshadowed by his increasingly erratic mental state. In the year prior, Zioncheck had escaped from a mental institution, offered President Roosevelt a “gift” of mothballs and empty beer bottles, and been arrested for drunken horseplay in the White House fountain with his wife. On August 7, he leapt from his fifth-story office window to his death.
Despite his well-documented mood swings, some conspiracy theorists think Zioncheck didn’t jump. They say he was pushed, perhaps by political enemies. And some think Zioncheck haunts the hotel, which became a DoubleTree in 2009. Apparently, the elevator sometimes rises to the fifth floor for no reason, and people hear strange footsteps and feel unexplained cold breezes. As a fascinating but overlooked character from our city’s past, perhaps Zioncheck just wants to be remembered. At least better than the walruses.