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The Arctic Club’s Most Famous Tenant

The downtown Seattle hotel is where men dreamed big—and where dreams died.

By Bess Lovejoy October 8, 2012 Published in the November 2012 issue of Seattle Met

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.

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