EVERETT — Each day more than 25,000 cars passed it by.
Few drivers would stop in unless they needed office furniture. They were more likely to buy a coffee at the Bargreen’s espresso stand next door or grab a bite at Tang Wong or the China Doll before it.
The old wood building, well into its second century, maintained an inconspicuous profile on Broadway. It was more wallflower than edifice in the shadow of the $83 million Xfinity Arena across the street.
Fans and families gave it little thought as they strolled by the storefront on their way to hockey games and high school graduations, concerts and skating, the circus, bridal shows and motocross.
Yet every building has its own story and the furniture store had many. In its previous lives, it was a hotel and boarding house. It was home to the Salvation Army and Volunteers Of America. Businesses came and went, selling awnings, aquariums, antiques and pianos. It was once a lodge for the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs fraternal organizations and later a place of worship for Hispanic, Filipino and Marshall Islands churches.
It also was where in the 1920s a young woman from Idaho fell in love, married and, for a time, raised four children. It was room and board, according to the 1930 U.S. Census, for immigrants: an Italian cook, a Greek barber, a Danish longshoreman, an Austrian shoe repairman and Swedish sawmill workers. In the 1980s, tired, leaky and creaky, it was sold to an Everett couple who painstakingly restored it, converting the top floor into a dance studio.
The building is rubble now. A charred heap. More than 115 years of local history burned to the ground in a few hours the night of Sept. 25, erasing one of Broadway’s oldest buildings.
And that’s too bad, said local history buff Dave Ramstad.
“It was a microcosm of the development of Everett,” he said.
Fellow Everett historian Jack O’Donnell said it represented a vanishing era of the old wooden commercial buildings in the downtown.
“There is not much of that left,” he said. “My feeling is this is just a tragedy.”
Tracing its roots
It opened as the Hotel Sexton, exactly when is hard to say.
Records from the Snohomish County Assessors Office peg its beginnings to 1905, but it is older than that.
A likely start is 1901, said Mindy Van Wingen, an Everett research librarian who traced its roots through city directories kept in the library’s Northwest History Room.
Microfiche in the city’s planning department turned up a copy of the water hookup application dated March 21, 1901. The owner of the property at 2931 Broadway was Charles Sexton whose one paragraph obituary appeared 19 years later. Sexton described himself as simply a “capitalist” in the 1910 Census.
Hotel Sexton stood three stories, including its basement, measuring 4,200 square feet on each floor.
The building remained a hotel for 50 years, changing names and proprietors frequently along the way. It was the Sexton, the Milwaukee and the Cadillac. By 1922, it had become the Marigold Hotel.
A classified ad taken out in a Seattle newspaper in 1923 pitched the merits of the Marigold: “FOR SALE — A 29-room hotel and boarding house, steam heat, on main street of Everett; rent $50 a month; have 29 steady boarders; reason for selling, sickness.”
The price: $2,200 cash.
It would not be the only time a desperate seller wanted out.
It was a rainy day in October 1988 when Virgil Morgan headed down to Broadway to take a look.
Virgil and Mary Morgan had been investing in real estate, quite successfully, and they embraced challenging projects.
Virgil had an inkling he might have found another one.
The Morgans graduated from Everett High School as did their two daughters. Despite his deep local roots, the property Virgil set off to explore hadn’t made any kind of previous impression on him. It was as though the building had been hiding in plain sight.
By then, it was owned by Pilgrim Lodge No. 187 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which held its meetings on the top floor. Several Odd Fellows were gathered upstairs that day. Most seemed to be well into their 80s, some perhaps in their 90s, Virgil thought to himself. There was no elevator, just a trudge up a stairwell.
He could see why they wanted to sell. The building had fallen into disrepair. Virgil noticed the draftiness as he walked each floor. He was guessing the roof leaked, although it wouldn’t be until later that he discovered the old spittoons he suspected were used to catch the rain drops. The basement floor was half wood and half dirt illuminated by two light bulbs. A basement door and window on the west side had been boarded up, a sign that Broadway was once much lower.
None of that mattered. Virgil liked the building.
“How much do you want for it?” he called up from a lower floor.
The Odd Fellows insisted on $80,000. He offered $72,000 — cash.
They wouldn’t budge from $80,000.
Virgil told them he’d pay their price if they left the furnishings, including the pool table and stately oak chairs with leather cushions.
Virgil remembers being told: “Sonny, you just bought yourself a building.”
The deal closed less than two weeks later. Virgil let them keep their pool cues.
Roofers — a team of three brothers — worked in the cold and into the darkness each night. Contractors and subcontractors were hired for the overhaul. The Morgans, too, did much of the work themselves, including peeling off faded beige and green wallpaper from a 12-foot high ceiling. The restoration would take more than a year.
Mary was there daily, bundled up and wearing gloves behind a rickety turquoise table where she’d answer questions, give directions and oversee the finer touches.
Special attention was paid to the facade. The Morgans wanted it restored with historical accuracy, including the display windows on the main floor and the bay windows on the top story.
Mary grew to love the building as each project was completed.
Passersby could not have imagined the transformation on the top floor, but 150 people got a glimpse at a grand opening in May 1990. The former Marigold Hotel received the city’s William F. Brown Award for historical preservation the following year.
The Morgans turned the third story into the Broadway Dance Studio, although neither knew how to dance. The original red oak floor was repaired and refinished to its natural hue.
Virgil had been a top tennis player. He figured dancing was fine, so long as he didn’t have to be involved. He was comfortable on the sidelines as the janitor with a dry mop. Week after week, the dancers wore down him down, goading him to give it a try. He finally broke down, most reluctantly.
At first dancing was a love-hate undertaking, with a preponderance of the latter. Virgil is athletic, fit and competitive, but this new endeavour required work and tested his patience.
“Sometimes I would rather take a beating,” he said.
Like the time he finished fourth out of four pairs in the novice division of a Pro-Am dance contest in Seattle. It was embarrassing. He swore off dancing forever — or three days, as it turned out.
Virgil and Mary eventually became decent dancers, gliding across the floor at 2931 Broadway on Friday nights surrounded by other couples.
“We made a lot of lifelong friends because of that building,” said Virgil, now 74. “It’s disheartening to see something gone where we made so many friends.”
The Morgans owned the building for 27 years.
Along the way, they encountered some characters — a tenant who once had a piano hoisted on top of a store in Monroe before relocating to their Broadway building; an antique shop owner who’d carry with him a Bible, a gun and a flask of whiskey.
Then there was the elderly widow who stopped by in the early 1990s. The Morgans weren’t in so she left her phone number.
They called Hazel Crandall. The Everett woman was hoping to take a tour of the building.
Virgil was happy to oblige.
He led her upstairs. When she reached the top, Virgil noticed tears streaming down her cheeks and asked if she was okay.
“This is where we got married, right on top of these stairs,” she said.
Over a couple of breakfasts, Crandall told the Morgans her story, how she had moved from Idaho to Everett in 1927. She found work at the Marigold where renters were part of Everett’s blue collar working class. She’d help cook their breakfasts, pack their lunches and prepare their dinners, including baking pies for dessert.
Shortly after she’d arrived at the Marigold, a tenant took a fancy to her. His mother happened to be running the hotel at the time. Hazel married Archie Winfield Crandall on May 16, 1928.
Twelve years later, they had four children, ages 3 to 11, according to the 1940 U.S. Census, and they were still living at 2931 Broadway. They were managing the Marigold.
More than wood and glass
Dennis Wagner, better known as Downtown Dennis in local real estate circles, approached Mary Morgan in front of her building as she was cleaning the windows many years ago. He was fairly new in town and asked if they’d pay him if he found them tenants.
He passed along a tip about a piano dealer in Monroe, but nothing had been official.
Wagner really didn’t expect anything in return. No paperwork had been signed.
“Then Virgil knocks on my door in shorts and pays me,” he said. “He didn’t have to pay me.”
There would be other referrals and other deals.
Wagner painted the Morgans a portrait for the 10th anniversary of the opening of their dance studio. It was taken from a photograph of them on the dance floor. Years later, he bought some of the old Odd Fellows furniture, which he later sold, keeping one of the ornate chairs he found impressive.
Wagner said a handshake was always good enough in making deals when it came to the building on Broadway.
Brian Hollingshead learned the same thing. He owns Everett Office Furniture and had rented from the Morgans for many years. The building provided a large showroom and warehouse space downstairs. Trust between landlord and tenant was a two-way street.
On the night of the fire, Hollingshead was at his Everett home. An alarm company called him. When he stepped outside, he could see an ominous plume in the eastern sky. He headed over the hill to watch. His store, records, computers and inventory were gone, but he resolved to keep the business going.
Mary Morgan got a call from her sister that night. She told Mary to turn on the news. Their old building was in flames and collapsing. Mary and Virgil crawled out of bed, got dressed and headed out to bear witness.
Virgil called Jeremy Jones, a real estate investor who with his brother bought the building a couple of years back for $900,000, according to assessor’s office records.
The Edmonds man had been playing tennis in north Seattle. He, too, made the drive to Everett.
“The building had so much character to it,” Jones said. “We have been buying some rubies and pearls. This was our first diamond opportunity.”
Jones also is a drummer who contributed to an instrumental song on a Grammy-nominated Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album.
His music took him to the Marshall Islands a few years back. A YouTube video shows him playing makeshift drums on Ebeye Island in 2014 as a semi-circle of the island’s children watched with delight.
To Jones, the 89-acre island had seemed like a tiny speck in the ocean, so he was excited to have a congregation of Marshall Islands transplants renting the top floor of the Broadway building. It somehow felt like “a divine connection, a greater force, had brought us together.”
“There’s the dollars and cents and a journey behind every building and every investment,” Jones said.
Downtown Dennis has found a new home for the church.
The investigation into the fire is continuing. The initial damage estimate was $1.5 million. Finding a cause could prove difficult, said assistant fire marshal Steve Goforth.
“Sometimes it becomes tough when the whole building collapses,” he said.
As Van Wingen drives to work at the library each day, she glances over at the cavity left in the 2900 block of Broadway and wonders about other old buildings she has passed without second thought.
She ponders the stories of the common man who lived and worked and gathered and danced in the building. She thinks about the immigrants, the innkeepers, the mill workers, the second-hand store and the small businesses.
“This building was a lot more than wood and glass,” she said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.