First things first: Yes, the building is very old.
And yes, people get old too, and sometimes when you see something that’s as old or older than you are at the end of its life, it reminds you that you’re not a teenager anymore, and you realize that maybe you’ll get knocked over and replaced by someone as young and cute as you used to be, and that’s not fair, but if that happens then you’re one of the lucky ones because it means you had a good long run, and maybe if you’re REALLY lucky you’ll have a chance to tell your cute young replacements some of the things you learned so they won’t have so many regrets when it’s time for them to get knocked over and replaced.
So. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the Jai Thai building on Broadway, architect Henry Dozier, and the boiled baby.
Perhaps you’ve walked by the Wilshire Building, or as it’s also known the Iota Building, or as it’s also also known that place with the pet store and the Thai restaurant that also has stand-up comedy. Its owners want to knock it down and replace it with a seven-story building.
The new structure would have ground-floor retail plus 95 units of 100% publicly-funded affordable housing. As always happens, there’s some dismay over the loss of an old building — the current structure is 118 years old — and some are sad about the end of Jai Thai’s comedy nights happening at this spot on Broadway. (I’m not sure I’d want to explain to someone who can’t afford a place to live that their need for housing is less urgent than my need to laugh into a plate of crab delight.)
If anything derails these new homes, it is likely to be efforts to have the building declared a historical landmark. And sure, 118 years is a long time for a building to stand. Is it a landmark, though? Are those arched windows contributing to neighborhood culture? I’ve lived a few blocks away from it for close to a decade, and it seems like wobbly tables outside Vivace’s coffee stand contribute more to local culture than an old box that most passers-by would struggle to remember noticing.
What even IS that building’s history?
Fortunately, in the late '90s a doctor in Colorado found himself with some spare time and an interest in history, so he compiled a biography on the architect who designed 229 Broadway East. (It's been updated six times. The last time was in 2016.) The architect’s name was Henry Dozier, and he was a MESS.
Dr. Charles O. Brantigan’s Dozier dossier can be found here. According to that research, Henry Dozier was born in the middle of the 1800s to a Mississippi doctor. Brantigan writes that the family had enough money to hold at least one child in slavery and several enslaved adults; but during and after the Civil War the Doziers seemed to fall on hard times. Henry made his way into architectural training, eventually settling in Denver at the age of 22.
In Denver, Henry Dozier did some quite charming work, some of which still stands. Take a look at Sherman Elementary School; the old Main Hall at Regis University; a home that’s now an office; and this cute little house. Dozier’s style, to my architecturally-untrained eye, seems to be a sort of campy decor-on-decor vibe, like when a seven-year-old finishes a Lego kit and starts adding more pillars and blocks and those little one-by-one transparent nubs. It reminds me of the ‘90s suburban mall vibe, or the pillars-to-nowhere of a Cheesecake Factory. It’s the one-more-beige-thing flourish of a mid-run Frasier set. This La Brea Bakery owes Henry Dozier a royalty check.
In 1879, Dozier married a 19-year-old seamstress named Pauline Lippas. They had three children, and then Henry — for reasons his biographer does not explain — had his wife declared insane. (But not so insane that he didn’t go on to have six more children with her.)
Aside from his industrious procreation, Henry does not seem to have been particularly interested in his wife or children. He is reported to have wandered away from his family to the point that it fell upon the eldest daughter, at the age of sixteen, to file a lunacy petition and have Pauline remanded to a hospital. His nine children were raised by various community members, and Brantigan reports that “family tradition says that he ran off with a harlot.”
For a time, he lived in a Colorado town still known, startlingly, as Cripple Creek. There, he spent his money on “dissolute women” and earned some amount of income from gold camps. (This income did not tend to find its way back to his wife and children.)
It was in 1897 that a newspaper printed a letter from his delightfully-named daughter Celestia, defending Henry as a fine father and noting that there was no truth to the rumor that Pauline had tried to boil a baby. Wait, what?
This may be the earliest recorded case of “my ‘Not involved in human trafficking’ T-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt.” Celestia’s mention of the rumor invites a lot of questions, but she apparently thought that the gossip was widespread enough that it needed debunking, though the exact nature of the gossip seems lost to time. Why, for a while, was everyone talking about Pauline trying to boil a baby? What was the actual truth? Nobody seems to know.
Henry, meanwhile, slipped away to St. Louis after a court ordered him to support his family. Various children were sent to live with family, at an orphanage, and at a workhouse.
The gold rush seems to have brought Henry to Alaska and Seattle around 1900 — he would have been here around the same time as Donald Trump’s draft-dodging grandfather, though there’s no evidence they interacted.
Henry designed a handful of buildings, though usually with a bit less flair than his Denver work: Still standing today is the Dearborn House on Minor Ave; a Capitol Hill home estimated to be worth around $4 million today; a $2.5 million home that reminds me of a lizard looking in two different directions; another millionaire home that never met a pillar it didn’t like; a $2 million job that seems to have a lot of ideas about arched windows; a $3 million collection of boxes; and there are several more that are now demolished. Of Dozier’s Seattle works, the comedy-Thai building was his only project on Broadway — so while the building is old, it’s not exactly representative of the neighborhood.
So, getting back to the topic at hand, which is that building: According to Capitol Hill Past, it was built in 1903 and had various lives as a pharmacy, a groceteria, and a sanitarium. Though the style is uniquely Dozier, the businesses that it housed are early examples of how the Broadway business district developed. In its youth, it was rather fetching and a nice example of Dozier’s style: There are peculiar arches and bay windows, flourishy stripes, and brick walls at unexpected angles. A lot of “why is THAT there,” and I like the look. It reminds me of how much I wanted to live in the bedroom from Clarissa Explains it All.
But many of those touches are now gone. Decorative elements have been removed from the roof. The neon sign has been replaced by a dingy awning. The detail-on-detail style of the facade has been smudged over with uniform paint. Tiles are covered up. Windows are filled in. The qualities that make it a Dozier-style building are no longer evident.
But so what? When you walk down Broadway, do you imagine that local culture would be vastly improved if you could see the original color of the bricks? Are those arched windows doing us more favors than 95 homes would? And most relevant to the question of historic preservation: Does the recessed pickup window that used to be a doorway in any way tell the story of Seattle’s past or Henry’s life?
I like what that old building once was, and I like knowing the gruesome details of the man who designed it. But I could stand outside that building and stare at it for hours and never absorb any of that history. A decorative plaque with a paragraph of text would illuminate more history than the building itself.
After his time in Seattle, Henry bounced around Tacoma, New York, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi for his remaining days, expiring in 1914. His death was not remarked upon in any papers, and his grave is unmarked.
Remembering the past is important, but preservation is only one way of remembering. Some things don’t last forever, because they can’t — like people, for example, who die — but rather than embalm every corpse and leave them lying in glass coffins, we find other ways to remember their stories.
Whether it’s the memory of a person, or a place, or an era, in order to ensure that a memory lasts, people must make choices about how it should be protected. But attempts to protect the past will fail if they get too much in the future’s way, because time — if you weren’t aware — only moves in one direction. When the past and future clash, the future will always win.
This, and please stay with me here, is why I do not wear a wig, no matter how many targeted Facebook ads suggest it: I’d still be a bald man advancing through my forties. Time will have still moved on. It won’t make me young again.
So instead, I spend time with my young niece and nephews, playing Mario Kart, recommending books they might like. Hopefully that’s how I can be helpful, by offering those kids a perspective from someone who’s managed to accumulate a little age and with any luck wisdom, or at the very least, experience. And then I'll be ready to get out of the way.