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A triangular three-story brick building runs along a wide street with a storefront facing the street corner. Above the storefront, a sign reads “Auditorium Cleaners.”
The building, then Auditorium Cleaners, in November 1979.
Courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 179529

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Fremont’s own flatiron building has hosted many a neighborhood icon

The former home of Auditorium Cleaners and Empty Space Theater remains a Seattle staple

The ancient Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF)—the American chapter of the original Odd Fellows fraternity in England—set up shop in Fremont in 1891, the same year that the village of Fremont was annexed to the rest of Seattle.

Platted only a few years earlier in 1888, it was a hot, up-and-coming neighborhood. Its streets, only recently made of sawdust, had been paved, and a new spur of the Seattle, Lake Shore, and Eastern railroads ran across the canal. A beautiful new school, named after prominent neighborhood Oddfellow B.F. Day, was in the works, the multiple lumber mills on the north end of Lake Union offered plenty of jobs, and the area’s geographical location offered a quick rail commute to downtown. With a handful of other lodges already sprinkled around the city, the Oddfellows could see that Fremont, population 5,000 and growing, was a strategic area to recruit upstanding young members.

The first building the IOOF constructed to be Lodge #86 was a “modest” wood-framed meeting hall at the triangle formed by Fremont Avenue North, Fremont Place North, and North 35th Street—with a front-facing view of the busy intersection. The Oddfellows decided after 30-odd years to replace it. The new three-story, brick-veneered Odd Fellows Lodge was dedicated on June 1, 1927 in the same triangular location as the old wooden hall, with a triangular flatiron shape to match.

Its style is typical of the era and similar to many other Fremont buildings of the decade, made of brick and cast stone with a Romanesque flavor. The first floor, clad in cast stone, is horizontally scored, while the second story featured double-hung windows, most of which include a lintel of cast stone. The windows on the third floor, also double-hung, are in pairs, and each has its own heavily ornamented arch. A long molding covers three sides of the building, with more ornamental machicolations all over the facade underneath. The main doorway touts voussoirs and cable moldings in concentric arches, also with great Romanesque Revival flair, and is flanked by decorative Corinthian columns. Along the Fremont Place façade, the storefronts are trimmed in copper, fir sash, and concrete.

While it was designed as an IOOF hall, the building is perhaps best-known as the Auditorium Cleaners building—the company operated out of its first-floor, corner storefront from 1930 to 1991. The cleaners, of course, took its name from the smallish second-floor auditorium directly above it, which the Oddfellows originally used for meetings.

That auditorium also housed one of its best-known tenants. While hasn’t been known as such for more than a decade, a lot of Seattleites probably still think of this building as “The Empty Space building.” From 1993 until 2001, the legendary theater group found a home base in the auditorium after shifting around Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill for 20-plus years.

In a freak architectural accident in 2001, a huge chunk of the building’s brick cladding fell off and crashed to the sidewalk below, and the subsequent extensive repair work and general disruption caused the theater to have to leave. The IOOF building’s owner, Mike Peck, insisted to neighborhood blog Fremocentrist in 2011 that the incident had nothing to do with the Nisqually Earthquake a few months prior, explaining that “the mortar failed on the cinder block walls.” Empty Space shuffled around several temporary homes across the city after that, and eventually met its demise in 2006.

The drycleaner’s former space is now home to clothing boutique Show Pony, which took over the next-door spot vacated by eyeglasses shop Warby Parker a few months ago. The ghost of Auditorium Cleaners lingers in the alley to the north, where the old vintage sign still hangs.

A string of other businesses line the Fremont Place side of the building. Silence Heart Nest, which was just reincarnated from the dead by the former owner’s son after it suddenly closed in August, has been slinging vegetarian fare from its location in the Fremont IOOF building since 2005. At the western corner, miniature but exalted coffee shop, e.t.g.—that’s “Espresso to Go”—was established in 1982, becoming Fremont’s first coffee shop. It’s still selling gorgeous small-batch hand-roasted coffee from the same teeny tiny tiled storefront—formerly an Elvis Presley fan club headquarters—today. Just to the east, Olympic Jewelry next door has changed its name a few times, but seems to still be in business in the same location.

But its name lives on the back of the old-schoolers’ skulls whenever they pass by the building. Today, the auditorium space is occupied by Atlas Theater, one of two theaters in the building operated by local improv comedy producer CSz Seattle. The upper floors are also home to rented office space.

Building owner Peck, who also owns several century-old buildings on the other side of Fremont Place, sounds like he’s a bit of a history nerd, calling himself a “shepherd” of the property. He’s a ceramics artist and has lived in the neighborhood since 1972—it’s easy to imagine he’s keeping his eye on the details of one of Fremont’s grandest architectural icons.

This article has been updated to clarify theater tenants in the building.