On the second floor of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle sits a very special, snuggle-infused suite. Covered in hundreds of teddy bears of every imaginable size, along with festive lights, candy canes for the taking, and a lifelike digital fireplace, the Teddy Bear Suite is perhaps the most popular hotel room in the entire city during the holiday season.
The Teddy Bear Suite, which is free (although donations go to Seattle Children’s Hospital), has been an extremely popular holiday season destination for nearly a quarter century. People travel from across the city and beyond to get a glimpse of these special guests. For weeks leading up to Christmas, crowds of visitors—about 20,000 each year—flock to the suite to see the bears. Some simply look around at all of the elaborate holiday decorations or take photos of their favorite bears, while others settle in on the cozy bed to cuddle the furry creatures. But the teddy bears are several among many celebrity guests the Fairmont has hosted over the years as one of the oldest hotels in Seattle.
The Fairmont officially opened its doors in 1924, after about a year of construction costing nearly $4 million, according to Kara Terek, director of public relations at the hotel. Thousands of locals contributed to the effort and even helped to name the building through a Seattle Times contest with a $50 prize for the winner.
When it came time for the Fairmont’s opening night dinner that December, more than 2,000 people from the area came out for the extravagant gala, which included dinner, dancing, and four separate orchestras. “It marked the largest community undertaking to date,” said Markus Treppenhauer, general manager of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. “Its opening introduced new standards for lavish social affairs, previously only found in large East Coast cities.” A Seattle Times article from the next day marveled at the event: “With the formal opening of the Olympic, Page One in a new social era was turned.”
In the decades that followed, the hotel became a magnet for the city’s social elite. Groups gathered at the hotel before and after attending performances at the Metropolitan Theatre, while its restaurant, The Georgian, held “woman’s day” with fashion shows and other types of entertainment.
“The Olympic was the hotel of the Northwest—a major civic landmark, built with much local support, that provided Seattle with the perfect hotel for the roaring twenties, with all the grandeur of the grand hotels of Europe and the Eastern US,” said Leonard Garfield, executive director of MOHAI.
With this notoriety came world-renowned guests. In 1927, just a few months after his solo trans-Atlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh visited Seattle and stayed at the hotel. Comedian Bob Hope stayed at the Fairmont multiple times beginning in 1941, and in 1977 The Ramones played a rock concert at the hotel’s restaurant. The Fairmont has also hosted royalty, including Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Crown Prince Akihito, and Crown Princess Michiko of Japan.
But it also has a long history of housing many U.S. leaders. Beginning with our 31st President Herbert Hoover, Terek said nearly every president and most presidential candidates have checked in there.
Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt arrived at the hotel in 1932 when he was running for president and Dwight D. Eisenhower visited it at least twice, once in 1953 for the 45th annual Governor’s Conference and then again in 1956. In 1975, in the middle of his presidential term, Gerald Ford also visited the hotel.
The teddy bears joined the Fairmont’s clientele in 1996 as a way to celebrate the holiday season. It’s also a way to raise money for Children’s Hospital—last year, the event raised $17,000. The room design, engineered by local interior designer and event planner Kevin Bradford, changes every few years. This year’s theme, Winter Wonderland, is on display for the first time. The teddy bears themselves filter in and out, too, as some get worn out and retire and new ones join the party.
Although not quite the grand accommodations afforded these iconic guests, the bears in the hotel’s second floor suite do get their own distinct taste of luxury. While the room varies every year, the teddies are always provided a corner suite. Outfitted with shimmering icicles, lit-up wreaths and a ceiling-high tree, there is no end to the holiday spirit in this space. And getting the chance to visit these teddy bears in this cozy setting can be a magical experience.
For the 2018 season, the bears are on display through December 26.