The Sorrento Hotel first opened its doors in 1909, just before the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a world’s fair held in Seattle to highlight the development of the Northwest. The exposition attracted nearly four million visitors, which marked an auspicious beginning for the city’s first boutique hotel.
The hotel was commissioned by clothing merchant Samuel Rosenberg and built by architect Harlan Thomas who later became the first dean at the School of Architecture at the University of Washington. The seven-story building features Italian Renaissance style architecture, inspired by the architect’s muse, The Vittoria in Sorrento, Italy. The famous circular porte-cochére was originally a square Italianate garden. The tiled pottery surrounding the large open fireplace in the Fireside Room is a beautiful example from the famed Rookwood Pottery Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, and was their first commercial installation. The hearth is irreplaceable and designed with sea green matte textured glazed tiles, a mosaic of an Italian landscape and traditional della Robia pattern that border the fireplace opening.
A Place to Meet
At the time of its opening, the Fireside Room was the Seattle gathering place for locals to engage in conversation, listen to music and poetry readings or discuss new artists and their work. The original registry has an impressive line-up: President Taft was rumored to have signed the book, plus the Vanderbilts and Guggenheims stayed here.
From the 1930s to the 1950s diners flocked to the very popular “Top O’ the Town” restaurant on the 7th floor for prime rib and entertainment from Betty Hall Jones (who performed again at the hotel’s 75th anniversary in 1984).
The Sorrento Hotel was later traded by Rosenberg for Bear Creek Orchards near Medford, Oregon. The exchange was characterized as “trading a lemon for a pear,” as Rosenberg’s sons, Harry and David, turned the orchards into a multi-million-dollar business.
The Malone Family has owned the Sorrento since the 1980s and has since restored the hotel’s appearance, maintaining its reputation for genuine hospitality. The original 154 rooms are now 76 deluxe rooms and luxury suites. In recent years the owners have renewed the hotel’s arts and cultural programs, and the hotel maintains its position as a cultural and intellectual hub of Seattle.