Above is a 1908 photograph of two couples photographed at Seattle’s Luna Park, an amusement venue billed as “The Coney Island of the West.” Sitting in the front passenger seat in a bowler hat is Simon Weixel, proprietor of the Keystone Liquor Company. Little did anyone realize at the time that within five years both Luna Park and Weixel’s business would be shut, their fates inexorably linked.
Simon Weixel was born in Germany about 1865, educated in the good German schools. Details about his early life are scanty but at the age of 25 in 1890 he left his native land for America, settling in Seattle. By 1894 he had a found a wife, Jane “Jennie” Barmon, born in Detroit of German immigrant parents. At time of their wedding, Simon was 29 and Jessie 17. They would have one child, Bessie Buttercup, born in 1895.
My assumption is that shortly after arriving in Seattle, Weixel went to work for one of the many liquor houses in the city. The 1900 census listed his occupation as “liquor merchant.” By 1902, according to Seattle business directories, he had founded own establishment, naming it “The Keystone Liquor Company.” Advertising as “wholesale and family trade,” Weixel featured quality Kentucky brands, including Old Crow, Hermitage and McBrayer whiskeys.
The German immigrant had selected an ideal spot to locate his liquor business at the Colonial Hotel, the address 1123 First Avenue, at Seneca Street in downtown Seattle. As shown left, his enterprise was nestled in a ground floor corner of the Colonial, perhaps the city’s premier hostelry. Designed by one of the Seattle’s foremost early architects, during the Yukon Gold Rush, this was the preferred hotel before rushing off to seek a fortune. As one writer has said: “Outside the tradition of the grand hotel, it catered specifically to men of modest means who favored its inexpensive rooms and easy access to the port.”
Weixel seems to have been immediately successful at that location. As sales of established whiskeys rang his cash registers he was able to offer his customers “house brands,” likely “rectified” (blended) in a back room from barrels shipped in by railroad from Eastern States. The whiskeys would be mixed to achieve the taste, smoothness and color he had learned were favored by his customers. His flagship proprietary brands, ones Weixel never bothered to trademark, were “Transport Rye’ and “Keystone Rye.” The former was sold with a colorful well designed label that featured Seattle as a port city. In the background right can be seen the towers of Luna Park.
As Weixel was climbing up the economic ladder, an amusement park hailed as the “Coney Island of the West” in 1906 was being constructed on a Pacific Ocean site along the shores of Alki Beach at a northern point of Elliott Bay. Charles I.D. Looff, the Eastern moneybags developer, along with fascinated Seattle residents, watched as workers drove pilings into the tidal flats and a Coney Island-like amusement park arose.
Shown above, when it open as Luna Park in 1907 the site included a figure eight roller coaster, a classic carousel, chute-the-chutes, other thrill rides and a water slide, along with a host of games. It soon would add a salt water natatorium, with fresh and saltwater swimming pools, and a dance hall for evening guests. As one newspaper put it, Luna Park was “an amusement park the likes of which had not been seen before in the Northwest.”
Another feature of Luna Park that did not escape notice was an enormous drinking pavilion, with a bar that was deemed the longest in the Northwest and the best stocked in the Seattle area. My assumption is that as a wholesale liquor dealer Weixel was a major supplier and perhaps THE major supplier of alcohol to Luna Park. Standing behind the regiment of bartenders likely could be found the quart bottles of Keystone Whiskey shown here. As the aproned barmen poured individual drinks for eager customers they may well have used shot glasses Weixel provided to the saloons, restaurants, hotels and other drinking establishments using his liquor
The artifacts bring us to the photograph that opens this vignette. Weixel’s success had attracted the attention of one of America’s most notable liquor barons, Jack Danciger [See my post on Danciger, June 26, 2012.] Shown here, Danciger, aided by family members had grown a liquor house impressively in Kansas City. He was selling his “rectified” whiskey to dealers over a wide region of the West. My assumption is that Weixel was among his customers.
With Danciger was his wife, the former Queenie Bailey, in her own right a writer, cartoonist and songwriter. She is seated behind her husband with Jennie Weixel. My assumption is that Weixel did not take the visiting couple to Luna Park just to experience the amusements but to show Danciger the long bar and the ample opportunities to sell whiskey.
No one in the party could know in 1908 that the availability of alcohol would lead to the downfall of both Keystone Liquor and Luna Park. Liquor at Luna Park sparked a public outcry from prohibitionists who alleged drunkenness and wanton behavior there. In early 1911 the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported: “(At) Sunday night dances at Luna Park ... girls hardly 14 years old, mere children in appearance, mingled with the older, more dissipated patrons and sat in the dark corners drinking beer, smoking cigarettes and singing.” Additionally, the park manager was found to be part owner of a 500-room Seattle brothel.
The forces of “dry” and “moralism” pounced. Beset with scandal, muckraking and outcries against “boozers from Seattle,” Luna Park was forced to shut down in 1913 after a short life of six years. With it went the glittering lights on Elliott Bay, the sounds of the calliope, and “the longest bar on the bay.” The desolate site eventually saw its amusements and rides sold or torn down. Only the natatorium remained open until torched by an arsonist in 1931.
Not only had Weixel lost a potential major customer for his liquor, he now faced a prohibition movement triumphant and energized by its victory over Luna Park. In November 1914, following vigorous Anti-Saloon League lobbying, the voters of Washington approved a statewide ordinance that prohibited the manufacture and sale of liquor statewide. The vote was 189,840 for, 171,208 against. Although Seattle and other major cities had voted against it, the referendum won handily.
Forced to close Keystone Liquor in January 1916 after more than15 years of successful business, Simon Weixel was made clear his intense displeasure with this turn of events. As shown here in an iconic photograph, the proprietor plastered his the front windows of his store with four large signs, all bearing the same message: “We’ve Got Ours, Come In And Get Yours Before It Is To Late.” The photo seems to symbolize the pain of loss associated with prohibition everywhere.
Still relatively young at 51 when the blow fell, Weixel appears to have moved onto other occupations. A 1920 Seattle directory lists him as the owner of the Coast Drug company and manager of the Atlas Candy Company. By the 1930 census, Weixel, now 65, was selling life insurance. At some point the couple moved to Los Angeles, perhaps to be closer to their married daughter. Living long enough to see National Prohibition repealed, Simon died in 1937 at the age of 72. Jane “Jennie” followed him to the grave in 1964. Their columbarium plaque is shown here.
Note: This vignette was drawn from a wide range of resources, spurred on by coming across the photo of the two couples in the automobile that opens the post. The Colonial Hotel is still standing and now on the National Register of Historical Sites. The storefront where Weixel once sold whiskey is now devoted to hairdressing supplies.