A Seattle hotel returns to splendor of yesteryear

The 58-year-old Olympic Hotel in Seattle will rejoin the ranks of premier hotels when it reopens in May.

A $52 million renovation is blending the hotel's original architectural design and the venerable appointments of an earlier day with modern concepts of design and service.

The restoration is a project of Urban-Four Seasons Hotel Venture, which took over the Olympic under a 60-year lease granted by the hotel's owners, the University of Washington board of regents.

Renovation has been under way since October 1980, and it is said to be the largest privately financed project of its kind.

Among guests of the Olympic have been six presidents of the United States and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain.

The Olympic stands on a 10-acre center-city tract given to the university by a group of Seattle pioneers in 1861. The university's first building was constructed here before the university moved in 1895 to its present northwest Seattle site. The hotel was built originally in 1924 with the financial support of 4,500 individual area investors.

Urban-Four Seasons is a joint venture of Urban Investment & Development Company, Chicago, and Four Seasons Hotels Ltd. of Toronto. The restoration has substantially outspent the $30 million bill for renovation of New York City's Barclay Hotel, renamed the Intercontinental-New York, and the $22 million renovation of Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford.

For more than 50 years the hotel has been an established social, civic, and cultural center of Seattle. It was constructed and furnished at a cost of $6.3 million, and it has been in the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.

Now it will be known as the Four Seasons Olympic. Target date for reopening is May 1.

The Canadian Four Seasons Hotels operates 14 hotels in Canada and the US, including the Chicago Ritz-Carlton and New York's Hotel Pierre, and a hotel in London. Heading the company are its founders, Isadore Sharp, who is chairman and president; Murray Koffler; and Edmund Creed.

With six hotels in the US, Four Seasons Hotels plans to open hotels this year in Houston and Dallas, as well as the Four Seasons Olympic here. Five possible sites for other hotels also are under consideration: Boston, Atlanta, Phoenix, Denver, and Los Angeles.

The developer is primarily interested in giving Seattle a hotel commensurate with the past history of the Olympic, according to vice-president Peter Kost.

The firm, founded in 1968, is a Chicago-based real-estate-development subsidiary of Aetna Life & Casualty. At the close of 1981 the firm owned or managed assets valued at $1.1 billion and had operations in 18 states.

When the doors open, the renovated Seattle hotel, once said to be ''the finest hotel west of Chicago,'' will present to the city an exterior facade restored to its original luster, public rooms brought back to yesterday's elegance, and commodius guest accommodations.

Throughout the main floors, detailed restoration has brought back many of the classic interior and exterior features of the Olympic's modified Italian Renaissance motif. The Georgian Room, the Spanish Ballroom, the main lobby, and other classic social gathering areas are being restored to their first appearance with graceful arched windows, long balconies, and carved columns.

In what seems a most unusual step in hotel architecture, the number of guest rooms has been reduced from 756 of earlier days, with each of the 451 new guest accommodations averaging 425 square feet, nearly twice the size of the average room prior to restoration.

The hotel's 10 floors of guest quarters will include 10 suites and two large apartment suites, in addition to what are described as alcove guest rooms - a larger room and adjoining smaller sleeping area that, if a guest wishes, can be closed off from the main room.

One thing to be found in the Four Seasons Olympic, as in the original Olympic of 1924, are sash windows in all rooms, unchanged over the years, all with their original hardware. Link chains, originally installed, take the place of the customary ropes.

One prominent feature of the old Olympic has disappeared, however - a skywalk that once connected the hotel to its parking garage. The new grand entrance has been moved from Seneca Street to University Street on the opposite side of the building.

Guests will have their cars taken from the circular entrance driveway by a valet service. To eliminate street-level truck congestion, deliveries to the hotel will be made by trucks driven first into the garage, and then by tunnel to the hotel receiving area.

Architect for the restoration is Naramore, Bain, Brady, and Johanson of Seattle. The interior designer is Frank Nicholson Inc. of Boston.

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