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  • Flora Tempel

Hugo House, a History: Death Days


In 2013, Seattle City Landmarks nominated the Richard Hugo House building for historical preservation. Built in 1903, the building has gone through many uses and seen the city grow up around it. Although it was originally built as a four-plex apartment building, it spent most of its life housing the Manning and Sons Mortuary.

Originally from Connecticut, the Mannings, Sarah and Joseph, honeymooned in Seattle at the turn of the century and stayed. In 1917, Sarah, a singer, performed at a funeral attended by mortuary owner E.R. Butterworth, who told her that Seattle needed a Catholic funeral home. Sarah and Joseph pawned Sarah’s engagement ring to buy the property on Capitol Hill and opened the Manning Funeral Parlor.

1634 11th in 1937, courtesy of the Puget Sound Regional Archives

From 1917 until around 1930, the two apartments on the bottom floor of the building were converted into two chapels and offices. The two apartments upstairs continued to be inhabited. As the business expanded, they took over the apartments on the second floor, using them as preparation rooms and offices. In 1932, Joseph Manning passed away. His wife Sarah and his sons, Arnold and Joe, took over the business. In 1938, they renamed the spot Manning and Sons Mortuary.

Arnold and Joe Manning added a large two-story chapel onto the southern side of the building in 1958, buying out and demolishing the residences next to the house. The interior of the rest of the house was significantly remodeled. Joe Manning died in 1978, causing his brother Arnold to sell the building and go into business with two other mortuary-business families, the Butterworths and the Ashmores.

Today, it is hard to see any traces of the mortuary in the building. However, the bones of the Hugo House space are reliant on the changes made by the mortuary business. On the first floor, the chapels have become the lobby and café we know today and the offices have been opened to make space for gatherings. The offices on the second floor remain. Thankfully, we can’t identify the embalming rooms for sure, but word on the street is that the bathrooms once had an even grosser function.*

The most important conversion since the funeral parlor days is in the large addition the Mannings added on the southern side. Originally the new chapel, today it is the black box theater. Above, the second floor houses the literary center’s largest classrooms. Without this space, Hugo House could not offer the variety and size of programs they do today.

When Manning’s Funeral Parlor opened in 1917, the funeral business in Seattle was booming. In 1910, there were only ten undertakers in the city, but by 1920 that number had almost doubled to 19. At the time, Capitol Hill was the home of some of the wealthiest families in the city, giving rise to the name “Millionaire Row” for many of the mansion-lined streets just north of today’s Hugo House. Capitol Hill was also predominately Roman Catholic. Downtown Seattle began to grow, crawling its way up the hill along the Pike/Pine corridor, right next to the Manning Funeral Parlor. The neighborhood began to shift from single family homes to apartments, and the businesses began to grow and change as well.

1634 11th in 1958, courtesy of the Puget Sound Regional Archives

In the 1960’s, Capitol Hill became the home of the Seattle gay and lesbian community. Gay bars cropped up in the neighborhood, and within a few decades, Capitol Hill was known for its nightlife and support of artists. Many music venues still reside on the Hill, as well as several museums and art galleries.

By the time Manning Funeral Parlor closed in 1978, the mortuary business had drastically changed. Cremations were becoming more common and the wealthy Catholic families on the hill were moving away to quieter neighborhoods. Today, Bonney-Watson Funeral Parlor, just across the park from Hugo House, is the only full-service mortuary on Capitol Hill and the oldest continually operating business in Seattle. It has held on by taking creative steps with its services, even as business drops.

Although many may feel that the Hugo House building’s history as a funeral parlor is perhaps a little creepy and unsettling, I find that it feels fitting. The funeral parlor was home to events that changed people’s lives and hopefully brought people together to celebrate and memorialize someone important in their life. As we writers walk into Hugo House, we are looking for people to connect and celebrate with, for inspiration and support to change our lives. The mortuary was home to many heartbreaking losses. It seems only right that the last business in the building is home to a happy community, to writers pouring out their souls, to many exciting successes. As we say goodbye to the building, we are not only saying goodbye to Hugo House, but to all the memories of the people who have walked through the literary center’s doors, no matter what reason they came.

But before 1634 11th could become Hugo House, it had to go through one more stage… Keep an eye on the blog for an upcoming post about the building’s life as a theatre.

Flora Tempel

*By the way, if you know anything about the 1997 bathroom remodel—they’re now oddly large—let us know for our research! Email teamdemohugo@gmail.com

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