Union Gospel Mission/Former location of Lou Graham’s

221 S Washington Street

Union Gospel Mission, Washington Court Building (previously Lou Graham's brothel), Seattle, 2010, Photo by Joe Mabel (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Madame Lou Graham (purportedly on left) and employees, Courtesy Paul Dorpat
Seattle fire aftermath, 1889, Courtesy UW Special Collections (CUR1372)
Start of Great Seattle Fire, June 6, 1889, Courtesy Seattle Public Library (spl_shp_5220)

221 S Washington Street

One of Seattle’s most infamous early female entrepreneurs was brothel madame Lou Graham. Born Dorothea Ohben in Germany, in 1857, Graham arrived in Seattle in 1888 and a year later opened one of the first post Great Fire of Seattle buildings, the four-story brick building that now houses the Union Gospel Mission. It was originally a brothel, though unlike most others in the city, “where visitors could expect to be stabbed, robbed, or both, Graham’s sporting house featured lavishly-decorated rooms, tinkling piano music, and a decent restaurant downstairs,” says Hanna Brooks Olsen, author of a forthcoming biography of Graham.

Graham eventually became an important land owner with at least a dozen properties, in addition to running her establishment, which was known to be favored by Seattle’s establishment families and government officials. She was, says Olsen, an unusual brothel owner, who took in and cared for children and paid the legal fees both for girls who worked for her and those she was just concerned about or had read about in the papers. Despite what a plaque on the north side of the building notes, she did not leave her holdings to the King County Schools when she died in 1903. Because she left no will and was not a naturalized citizens, which meant her German relatives didn’t inherit, her property ultimately ended up being sold to a variety of entities. The Union Gospel acquired the building in 1993.Washington Court Building

Walk south one block on Third Avenue S to S Main Street, turn right, and cross 2nd Avenue Extension S. Directly across the street on the southwest corner is a one-story brick building, usually covered in graffiti.

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