This corner red brick building at 3rd Ave S. and S. Washington St. housed the business that helped support Seattle’s revival after the great fire in 1889. The building was built by “Head Seamstress” Madame Lou Graham to house her seam-stressing operations after her other one was destroyed.
Seamstress was code for prostitute.
This became apparent when an enterprising reporter took to the streets in Seattle’s Seamstress district to find a sewing machine – he didn’t find any even though there were roughly 2,700 seamstresses listed in the census in this part of town.
There are stories of how women in town hated her and how she didn’t care. Women, for the most part, weren’t part of her customer base and she had little interest in appeasing them.
Madame Graham was also an entrepreneur of the highest order. Her business was well-attended and in order to keep it open, Graham agreed to pay Seattle a sum of $10.00 per month per seamstress under her care. She also had the assets to loan money to business people whose facilities were destroyed by the fire – fire insurance was just a dream in Seattle then. This helped the businesses rebuild with brick and mortar. Graham was also a philanthropist, donating over a quarter of a million dollars to Seattle’s fledging school system.
She was once arrested by a police officer enforcing the “law”. Outrage occurred at her booking; this forced the mayor to resign for not practicing proper oversight of the police force.
Graham died in 1903 under murky circumstances. Some say she died of an ulcer, others said suicide, and still others said syphilis. Whatever she died from, she was one of the most influential business leaders in Seattle and was instrumental in it’s rebirth as a major trading center and jump-off point for the Klondike Gold Rush.
Her business model was discontinued after her death.
The building is now part of Union Gospel Mission which helps the homeless in the area.