1/2 Hour. . . . . . . . . . . . $
Each Add. Hr. . . . . . . . $1.00
Maximum to 6:30. . . . . $8.00
Events. . . . . . . . . . . . . $10.00
Overnights. . . . . . . . . . $3.00
Everyday, the cars roll in. . .
The Butler Garage is a masterpiece
gone mad, an artist's canvas that has started out as one thing and
becomes another, and another, until finally, it has been overworked,
over thought, and stored away for historians to decide whether or
not it is art or accident. It is a montage gone mess, a hypothesis
gone wrong. Indeed, the old building has been refurbished so many
times that to say it is one thing, is also to say that it is possible
to swim in the same river twice.
The Butler is well hidden in the city's
historical district, only the rich urban lords and perhaps a few
ambitious serfs know the existence of the secret garage. And if
not for the wide rectangular entrance that swallows cars like guppies,
and the thick black letters painted into the bricks boasting: "Butler
Garage," one might hardly know it was there at all.
But this can't possibly be true. .
The passing pedestrian can't help
but be wooed by The Butler's strong features - a strong frame, an
angular structure, sharp corners, scruffy looks, ruddy-red brick
cheeks -- all tempt them to look back over their shoulder at the
building with suspicion, perhaps even caution. It's as though there
were some mysterious and handsome stranger watching them from the
Most assuredly it is the bricks which
have worked so hard to make the Butler its own mysterious entity.
The weight of them added together make the infrastructure of wood
and nail moot, and so, over time, the awkward, skewed pose on which
the building has settled brings the sight of it into the range of
the puzzlingly uncommon. Minus the gravitational constraints of
its original skeleton, the building can now lean and dip, crawl
and pant, breathe and live a life of its own. The Butler resonates,
everyday shaking free of the moment at hand - growing older, changing
the world around it like the smallest raindrop changes all things
in the universe.
Shortly before the turn of the century,
while Seattle was descending into mediocrity one lumber mill at
a time, the Butler building was a fabulous hotel (at least by the
standards of a pioneer.) After the "49ers" had quarried their gold
from Alaska's frontier, they traveled south again and used the
building to enjoy a luxurious few days escape from dirt and squalor.
In those days, the young city was logically the first real "metropolis" before The Bay Area; in fact, it was to the pioneers, a concrete
oasis in a wilderness of evergreens and moss. Here, while in Seattle,
and before starting for San Francisco, it would be their last chance
to spend money before heading to the abject seclusion of Oregon
and Northern California.
And why not?
In its glory days, the Butler Hotel
had boasted everything a tired, weary exploiter might desire: curtained
windows, mattressed beds, feathered pillows, electric lights, a
fully stocked bar, toilets, bathtubs, room service, sassy maids.
. . and, let's not forget the "seamstresses".
Sadly though, today the building is
but a ghostly impression of its former self.
"The leaves," says James Joyce, "lie
thick upon the way of memories". Indeed this is true.
During the Butler's conversion into
a hundred-and-fifty car parking garage, the private baths, fancy
wall paper and tiled floors were ripped painfully away from the
building's sticky ribs. Spaces that once lacked a view - closets,
halls, kitchens, now share the long held hostage morning sun. Two-by-fours
that once were hidden contentedly away are now exposed, naked and
embarrassed. Chunks of chalky, white, dry wall now cling like islands
in remembrance to rusty, bent, sixteen penny sinkers. Today, the
Butler building is barely anything at all. "Put the silver Jag between
those posts and put the Porsche behind the other!" coaches a veteran
valet. "That's right, you got it, ease it there! Nice and easy,
nice and easy. . ." He watches as the two cars pass with but an
inch to spare. The rookie, young and Latin, has dreamed of jobs
such as this since playing with Hot Wheels as a child. He parks
the car with the same intensity a physicist measures plutonium.
" . . . just like prom night - eh
Slick?" Now, the pressure treated two-by-fours serve only as markers
for spaces between cars - a bearing, a target for lining up rear
"five mile an hour" bumpers.
Considering The Butler's prior extravagance,
the original architects, brick layers and carpenters must be restless
in their graves. Once a valet told a writer who had worked at the
garage for a time about a ghost in crusty overalls inspecting the
building. The apparition had taken on the form of an old man. In
one hand it clutched a spaded trowel which drooped longingly to
his side. The lost soul wandered sadly through open space, but still
minded the missing hallways, corners, doors and stairs. Every night,
before finishing his lonely walk, he was said to visit the grand
ballroom where oil stains and tire marks smear the checkered parquet
floor. There he stands alone, closing his eyes to imagine swanky
couples dancing the night away.
A ghost, imagining ghosts. A dream,
dreaming a dream - and all the while, the Butler remains proud enough
to change - despite the unwilling ghosts that have haunted its past.
If you were ever presented with the
opportunity to explore the old building, you might wander about
long enough to feel claustrophobic, like perhaps Geppetto - the
master puppeteer and father of Pinocchio who was swallowed by a
whale. This is true because, inside the building it looks and feels
more like the bloated innards of an animal than a parking garage.
The supporting beams are the ribs of the animal; they run along
the ceiling bending and bowing as though the animal were sighing
against a mighty chest. Occasionally the beams are heard groaning
like an old tired vagrant. The customers look up, craning their
necks at the creaking bones while a valet plops into their driver's
seat, gears up, then speeds away. This orchestrated maneuver is
done with a smooth and practiced proficiency and leaves the customer
gazing at their car as Jimmy Stewart gazed at Katherine Hepburn
in the "The Philadelphia Story".
Hanging from the dusty beams are crumbled
wads of electrical wiring: rats play in them, they use the wads
of wire as wild play structures - they run, and jump, and frolic
with delight when, at the end of each night, the Butler's old yellow
lights are turned off. Along the interior brick walls, running at
their base, there are tiny mountain ranges of dusty cement. They
have been elevated to great heights, give or take a few magnitudes,
by the tiny fallen grains of sand that sat trapped for years between
the grooves of the bricks. Freed from their linear and horizontal
bondage, they fall secretly every day to create a monument dedicated
to time and attrition. When cars flash by in a whirling, agitated
mass of air, the mountains are ebbed into soft, rolling hills --like
the Badlands of Montana, or the prairies of the Dakotas.
A year is to a day
what a day
is to a moment.
Caught sinking away like some lost
artifact, The Butler is mired between two separate centuries. It
was near the end of the gold rush, during the time that the city
was becoming more and more a seaport that a great fire broke out!
While Seattle's first fire engine "Always Ready" stood by, The Great
Seattle Fire of 1889 had already leveled most of the new city's
business center; stores, outfitters, banks and hotels were burned
back down to their brick foundations. The catastrophe was most likely
caused by one of any number of farm animals, such as the famous
cow who tipped over a hot bucket of glue and set fire to Chicago
(a famed moment in Holstein history). Though, in Seattle, it might
very well have been caused by renegade clams playing with matches.
(I could tell you precisely that it was in fact caused by water
poured on a bucket of hot glue, but it's not as much fun.)
After the fire, brilliant civic engineers
decided it more prudent to build on top of the ruins rather than
tear them down. At street level, they cut new entry ways into fourth
and fifth stories and then capped the labyrinth below. This is why
the original lobby of the Butler is entirely underground - buried,
in a manner of speaking, up to its knees in filth and soot, dirty
rags, oily cracked awning, rotting wood, and layers of chipped lead
based paint. Above the ground, around the place where the building's
nostrils might be, roam the new smells of cotton candy, hot dogs,
beer, fish, pizza, vomit and exhaust. "Stand still you ever moving
spheres of heaven," says Christopher Marlowe, "[So] That time may
cease, and midnight never come." In reverence to Marlowe, for the
savvy world traveler there are tours of "Underground Seattle." After
comparing and contrasting the Lamaist art and architecture of the
Potala Palace in Tibet, a world traveler might find it desirable
to "pop" across the Pacific and take in the sublime spectacle of
building foundations under a sky of concrete. There are rats there
as well, big ones, who store sweet morsels of offal in their chubby
little cheeks and bring it underground through sewers and grates
to eat in peace. This happens, of course, only after tourists have
finished browsing the dank ruins, taken many pictures, and have
bought many post cards to send to relatives in Tennessee and Wisconsin.
. . .and
Among the many young men who valet
at the garage, there is one in particular, who might, after the
morning rush of opening car doors and speeding them away, casually
light a cigarette and lean against the old building to watch the
city go by. His eyes may search every passing soul that day - for
a spark of life, a question, or an answer. The tourist, the bums,
the hoodwinking legal eagles, the serfs - might all saunter by him
shyly avoiding eye contact. Somehow, they must have known that he
was searching, looking - and they wondered if really the young man,
whose bright eyes seemed to see so much, so effortlessly - could
actually know, or invent into them, every secret ever kept.
. . . every day, the cars rolled