Clubhouse History & Landmark Status
The Women's University Club grew out of the combined efforts of fourteen college-educated women with a passion for learning. They wanted a place in downtown Seattle where they could meet to engage in intellectual discussions, experience a unique cultural atmosphere, nurture friendships, and enjoy social activities.
On February 10, 1914, the founders applied in Olympia, Washington, for permission to incorporate as the Women's University Club of Seattle, stipulating that one of the organization's purposes was “to acquire a clubhouse and such other real and personal property as may be desirable.” The State of Washington's approval of the Articles of incorporation was cause for great celebration: the Women's University Club had become a reality.
On February 20, 1914, the founders held an organizing meeting and they elected interim officers to serve until the annual election to be held in May. By the time that first Annual Meeting was held on May 6, 276 women had become charter members. The board arranged with the Metropolitan Building Company to construct a small one-story building for the Club at 1205 Fifth Avenue, next to the all-male College Club, on land owned by the University of Washington. With the commission of this first building, they laid the groundwork for the next hundred years and beyond.
It didn't take long for the members to realize the little clubhouse was bulging at the seams. At the Annual Meeting in May 1919, a Building Committee was appointed to look toward future space requirements, and a “refurbishing tax” of $1 was imposed on each member to help prepare for the furnishing and decorating costs ahead. The members of the Women's University Club eagerly anticipated the next step.
However, an unexpected circumstance propelled building plans for a new location forward: the Club faced eviction! In 1920, the Metropolitan Building Company announced plans to erect a hotel (which became the Olympic Hotel) between Fourth and Fifth Avenues, University and Seneca Streets – which meant the Clubhouse would be razed along with all of the other buildings in that block. The news was disheartening, but members responded with a courageous decision to build their own clubhouse from the ground up. At the Annual Meeting on May 6, 1921, having considered the recommendations of the Building Committee, members approved the following resolution: That the Club authorize the Board of Trustees to proceed to secure a lot and erect a three-story club building providing certain membership and financial conditions were met. Once these conditions were met, the board gave the go-ahead to proceed and the Club made an offer to purchase the corner parcel at Sixth Avenue and Spring Street – the Club's current location. In January 1922, the Spring Street lot purchase was completed and a design was ultimately chosen to construct a four-story building with two floors of bedrooms to be rented to women on a short- or long-term basis, with dining privileges and housekeeping included. In 1973, the guest rooms were closed and converted to class and meeting rooms.
The Nisqually earthquake on February 28, 2001, measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale, caused extensive damage to masonry buildings in Pioneer Square, but the exterior of the little clubhouse on the hill was relatively unscathed. Measuring devices were installed to monitor interior wall surface cracking, and a report on earthquake damage concluded that the building was structurally sound. Nevertheless, there wasn't a room in which the lath-and-plaster walls hadn't suffered, and a great deal of repair work was required. It took the entire month of July that year to accommodate the necessary plastering, painting, masonry work and wallpapering.
In 2007, the Club was approached about listing the clubhouse on the city register of historic places. Early the following year, several board members met with the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board to discuss issues concerning a 1962 addition of a dining room and garage underneath as well as the fact, that a tour of the building suggested nothing on the inside was truly historic, except perhaps the fireplace. With those reservations, the board fully supported listing the original 1922 building and the Landmarks Preservation Board later voted unanimously to nominate the exterior of the 1922 building, excluding the interior and dining room addition. The Trustees also applied for, and received, national designation as a site of historic significance. In May 2010, Historic Seattle honored the Women's University Club for Exemplary Stewardship at its second annual award ceremony.