Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Day Seattle Cops Axed Kelley’s Art Palace

Early in May 1916, a phalanx of officers from the Seattle Police Department stormed into the establishment of James J. Kelley, a place he called the “Art Palace,” and proceeded to smash everything within reach.  Despite his efforts to circumvent the prohibitionary laws of Washington, Kelley had run afoul of enforcement efforts triggered by a corrupt mayor briefly turned champion of reform.  The photo here of cops wielding their axes in the Art Palace “drug store” ran in newspapers and magazines across America.

Kelley is first recorded by Seattle directories as a saloonkeeper in 1903.  A native of Massachusetts, he was the son of Lawrence and Mary Coad Kelley and still a bachelor at the age of forty.  His drinking establishment was located at 1413 First Avenue about three blocks from the Pacific Ocean and close to Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market.  As evident from an early 1900s postcard, First Avenue was a busy commercial street.
 In 1906 Kelley moved his saloon a block down the street to larger quarters at 1315 First Avenue and named it “The Art Palace.”  He lavishly decorated its walls with large “genre” paintings bearing such titles as “Halibut Fishing” and “Sheep in the Fold.”  His bar operated along side a wholesale and retail outlet he called the “Family Liquor Store.”  His wholesale business is represented here by a gallon stoneware jug with his name and address stenciled on a Bristol glaze body and Albany slip top.

For his retail customers he was decanting whiskey from large barrels in a back room into clear glass bottles embossed with his name and address.  Shown here are a Kelley pint, left, and a quart.  While these bottles originally may have had  paper labels, they have been lost in time and Kelley trademarked no proprietary brands.

In naming his enterprises as he did Kelley likely had ulterior motives.  He could sense the rising tide of prohibition fervor in Washington state.  Although voters had turned down a ban on alcohol (and women’s suffrage) in 1889, by the early 1900s more vocal and organized prohibition groups were mounting increased opposition to drinking establishments.  Running an “Art Palace” certainly sounded more benign than a saloon, as did a liquor store dedicated to “family.”

In 1909 the Washington legislature passed a wide-ranging local option bill that allowed 30 percent of a county or town electorate to petition for an election to vote dry.  The bill also mandated that women and minors be kept out of saloons and that saloon interiors have unobstructed views.  In other words, no private booths where assignations might occur.
While these strictures probably had minimal effects on Kelley’s business because Seattle subsequently did not go dry, temperance forces were far from satisfied.  Anti-alcohol marches, as shown above, were a frequent sight in Seattle. In 1914 by the slim margin of 18,000 votes, the state’s electorate passed a constitutional amendment that took effect on January 1, 1916, closing all saloons and liquor stores in the state.  Whiskey could still be obtained by prescription from a doctor, however, and drug stores proliferated.  An 1985 master’s thesis that compared the effects of prohibition in various West Coast cities documented that 65 new pharmacies opened in Seattle between January and March 1916.  Among them was J. J. Kelley’s Art Palace Drug Store.  

Once this saloon-cum-drugstore gambit was recognized, Seattle local authorities put into force additional regulations.  Henceforth, drug store prescriptions for liquor had to be kept in a separate file, numbered serially, and open to inspection by officials at any time.  Persons picking up such prescriptions were required to sign for them.  Liquor had to be kept in the same room in which a druggist’s business was transacted; no alcohol could be stored in back rooms or basements. Wine for sacramental purposes could be dispensed only to an ordained cleric.  Although directory listings indicated Kelley was selling “soft drinks,” apparently the hard stuff also flowed.  Intermittently in trouble with authorities, he somehow was allowed to keep his “drug store” open — for a while.

Enter Hiram C. Gill, shown left.  As mayor of Seattle in an earlier day he had allowed brothels, gambling parlors, and wide open drinking to flourish, reaping bribes in the process. Turned out of office in a recall election in 1911, he managed a political comeback in 1914 by “getting religion” and embracing reform.  The 1916 prohibition law provided the perfect vehicle for demonstrating Mayor Gill’s new found rectitude.
On May 4, 1916, Gill personally led a large cohort of police on a highly publicized raid of on drug stores, restaurants, and even private clubs, including the prestigious Rainier Club.  He seemed particularly to have singled out Kelley’s Art Palace for his vendetta.  Armed with axes and other implements of destruction the raiders demolished fixtures and a large quantity of liquor.  They broke down Kelley’s bar and shattered a mirror he estimated to be worth $1,000.  The press put total damage to the Art Palace at $10,000, the equivalent of more than $200,000 today.  Photos above and below show what Kelley’s establishment looked like after the onslaught.  His art collection can still be seen hung high on the walls.
When Seattle residents got a view of what Gill’s men had done, there was widespread disgust.  The city’s elites, many of them members of the Rainier Club, howled.  It is said that even prohibitionists were offended by the mayor’s actions.  As for Kelley, he quickly found a lawyer and sued Mayor Gill and Chief of Police Beckingham in Superior Court, asking for $9,000 in damages.

Although I have no information on the outcome of Kelley’s suit, all listings for his lunchroom and drug store terminated in 1916.  With his wife, Annette Cunningham, whom he had married in 1909, James Kelley moved on to other pursuits.  In a 1918 Seattle directory, he is listed as the manager of the St. James  Hotel.  Still operating today the hotel claims (dubiously) to have been a place where Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and outlaws like Jesse James ate, gambled and engaged in gun fights.
Two years later the census recorded Kelley, now 60 years old, living with Annette in the Palace Hotel and listed as its proprietor.  By 1922 he had moved on to manage the large and prestigious Rainier Grand Hotel in Seattle, shown below, a position Kelley appears to have held for at least the next seven years.  After that, he and Annette disappear from the public record.

Meanwhile Mayor Gill was not faring well. In 1917, he and other officials, including the chief of police, were put on trial for accepting protection money from bootleggers. Impeachment petitions were circulated. In January 1918 Gill was disbarred for unethical solicitation of legal work.  He ran for re-election that year, was trounced, and died a year later.  As he watched those events unfold, the former proprietor of J J. Kelley’s Art Palace Drug Store likely shed not a single tear.  

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