George F. Frye

George Frye
1833 - 05/2/1912

George Frederick Frye was born in 1833 in a seventeenth-century stone home in Drackenburg, Germany to "an old and historic family" (Seattle Times 3 May 1912). Frye emigrated from Germany to Seattle as a young man in 1853. The Yesler party had only brought white settlers to the Puget Sound region two years earlier, and the twenty-year-old Frye found himself performing many kinds of jobs in the pioneer town of Seattle. Frye assisted Henry Yesler and Arthur Denny in the construction of Yesler's mill, the first to produce lumber for the local economy. Frye also opened the city's first bakery along with Arthur Denny, operated a grist mill, and delivered mail for four years via the steamboat J. B. Libby.

During this time Frye became good friends with Arthur and Mary Boren Denny, and in 1860 he wed their 17-year-old daughter Louisa Catherine Denny. Louisa would later be acknowledged by her children as having advised Frye on all of his business deals. Together, Louisa and George Frye made their home at 1306 Madison street, and together raised six children. George F. Frye was a hard-working man known for his propriety and honesty, and a charter member and trustee of the Pioneers' Association. As Seattle grew, the Fryes obtained large realty holdings on Pike Street and in the White River Valley.

By 1883, the Fryes had accumulated enough capital to commission Irish-born architect John Nestor to design a first-class theater for Seattle. Situated on a steeply graded hill on the northeast corner of First and Marion Streets, the Frye Opera House measured 120 feet square, sat 1,300 patrons, and cost $125,000 to construct. At the time of its opening it was the most expensive building in the city and the largest theatre north of San Francisco. Modeled by architect John Nestor after the Baldwin Theatre in San Francisco, the Opera House was designed in the French Second Empire style, with four stories of brick faced with ornamented stucco and topped with an elegant mansard roof. The entrance to the theatre was on Marion Street, with the first floor set into the hillside along Front Street filled with retail space. The auditorium of the theatre hosted many productions besides just those of a theatrical nature, providing a space for many local organizations in need of event space.

Frye himself was known for his work ethic, and personally managed every aspect of the Opera House business, such as negotiating with theatrical companies from around the country and scheduling all of the performances. Opening night for the theatre was an enormous success, and featured a performance of "Claire and the Forge Master" starring Nellie Boyd, Theodore Roberts, and Ella and William Marble. From 1884 to 1889, the Frye Opera House was Seattle’s premier cultural attraction, providing an expanding population with a fashionable venue for musical and dramatic performances. All of this would come to an end, however, with the great fire of June 6th 1889.

The Frye Opera House had a brick and stucco exterior, but its wooden structural framing made it extremely vulnerable to fire, and it was completely destroyed by the June 6th conflagration. Turner Hall, on the corner of Jefferson and Fourth Avenue, was one of the few Seattle stages to survive the fire. At about 1,400 seats, the capacity was similar to the Frye Opera House. George Frye beat competitors like John Cort to the punch and leased Turner Hall from 1889-1890. He installed new scenery and props to attract artistic talent to Seattle, and managed theatrical productions at Turner Hall for about a year. The Turner Theater combined vaudeville, minstrel shows, and legitimate theater entertainment while the city rebuilt. After the fire, George Frye decided not to rebuild the theater, and later constructed the Hotel Stevens, a five-story brick structure, on the old opera house site.

Around this time the Fryes built a new home at the north side of Pike Street at the corner of Sixth Avenue. Frye then demolished their old home and built the M & A Building in its place. This new building was named for his deceased sons Marion and Arthur. The M & A housed Frye's second hotel, the Barker. Frye also maintained his hold on his 120-foot corner property at Third Avenue and Yesler Way despite many high offers made by other developers. In 1908, Frye would finally begin construction at the site, erecting a new eleven story fire-proof building named after his wife, Louisa C. Frye. The building would also come to be known as the Hotel Frye. Frye himself again personally managed the construction, and participated in the festivities with the hotel's first customers on the day of its opening on April 6th, 1911.

George Frederick Frye would die of pneumonia on May 2nd, 1912 at the age of 79. After his death, Louisa continued to manage the hotel. In the 1970's, the hotel would be converted into low-income apartments, and in the early 2000's the Low Income Housing Institute would purchase and restore the grandeur of the hotel's marble-floored first floor and strengthen its structure against earthquakes.

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Dorpat, Paul, "Frye Hotel (Seattle)"., 20 Feb. 2001, Essay 2988. Web., "Frye Opera House, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. 2015. Web., Seattle Daily Times, 3 May 1912, p.19., Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2 Dec. 1884, p.3.