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Columbia Hotel: “All You Can Eat For 25 Cents”

RVHS Photo #93.01.89

It was a Sunday in 1906 and the Columbia Hotel’s elegant dining room, with white linen tablecloths and floral centerpieces, was featuring their usual fare, a choice of either roast beef or chicken. The couple seated at the right is Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Kelso. He was one of the early Columbia pioneers and a partner in the Rainier Valley Investment Co., located at 4871 Rainier Avenue, kitty-corner across Rainier Avenue from the hotel. The company was involved in Insurance, Real Estate, Rentals, Loans, and investments. 

The hotel building, at 4900 Rainier Avenue, was originally built in 1892 as a residence for the Hellenthal family. It was the first brick building in Columbia and was also the only home built on Rainier Avenue between Edmunds St. and Hudson St. as the town officials designated those two blocks to be used for businesses only.

It became the Dakota Hotel for a short period and in 1904 another floor was added and the building expanded to the south, doubling its size.  It was then renamed the Columbia Hotel. In 1906 the building’s brick face was covered with stucco.

Mr. and Mrs. Jack Purkeypile are the couple standing in the center under the gas lamps hanging from the ceiling. Mrs. Purkeypile, a motherly lady, was the manager of the hotel and Jack was a motorman for the “Seattle, Renton & Southern Ry.”, one of the five different names used by the Rainier Valley street car line during its 47 years of service to the valley.

The hotel kept its own pigs in a pen at the rear of the building. To feed their pigs the Purkeypiles had to go to the Renton saloons for the swill they used for feed. Since this was long before prohibition the saloons were running full blast in Renton while at the same time no saloons were allowed in Columbia. This was a result of the first Columbia town council, in one of their first resolutions, had banned all saloons within the city limits. 

The Purkeypiles had an arrangement with the “Seattle Renton & Southern Ry.” crews, on a regular basis, to pick up half barrels of swill at the Renton taverns, and put them on the streetcar’s platforms. 

Women boarding cars with the floor sweeping skirts of that day would gingerly pull them up as they would regally sweep past into the car. When the car reached Columbia, passengers would cool their heals while Jack Purkeypile and the hotel roustabout would slop the pigs. All this on a nickel fare. Then the car would charge off to downtown Seattle at what was termed breakneck speed in that era.

According to the hotel’s desk register that we have in our files, many of the “guest” names in the book were the local residents, probably just there for Sunday dinner. There were many guests however that stayed at the hotel and their home addresses were from cities and towns all over the United States, some even visiting from overseas. 

One has to wonder what enticed them to visit the town of Columbia between 1910 and 1920? Maybe they were visiting friends or relatives? Were they salesmen there on business?  Or maybe they were prospective land buyers looking at the cheap lots that had been advertised in downtown Seattle newspapers. One of the guests who signed in at the hotel was Buffalo Bill Cody. 

A sign in the dining room proclaimed “If you leave this table and hungry be, the fault is in you and not in me.”

In later years the dining room became Nobel’s Drug Store, followed by Jamieson Drug Store and then Nash Pharmacy in the 1920s. The south portion of the main floor, at 4902 Rainier, was occupied by the “Columbian”, a neighborhood dry goods store. This was an early day venture of Marshall Fields in his attempt to operate like J.C. Penny did originally, as neighborhood and small town units. 

Several years later the Bright Spot Tavern occupied the corner site. (Seattle had annexed Columbia in 1907 and the ban on saloons had been lifted) It became a trouble spot in the community and a hangout for all the bad guys. Then things only got worse when it changed ownership and became Slim’s Restaurant and Lounge. 

A major fire occurred at Slim’s on October 1st, 1981 and this was construed by the neighboring businesses as a major improvement in town as it forced the closure of the establishment. 

After standing empty for a while the building was renovated and restored as a historic building and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It is currently home of Lottie Mott’s Coffee Shop and the local office for Sound Transit’s Light Rail Project scheduled to come through Rainier Valley in about five years, or is it now ten years. 


Buzz Anderson 

South District Journal 1/3/2001

President of the Rainier Valley Historical Society

If you are not a member of the Rainier Valley Historical Society, we invite you to join. The dues are only $30.00 per year and include our quarterly newsletter, the “Rainier Valley Heritage News.”  Come visit us to see our displays and browse through our photos and files of Rainier Valley’s unique history. 

We are located in the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S Alaska Street. We are constantly on the lookout for old photos, printed material and artifacts pertaining to Rainier Valley.


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