CLUB ROYALE MURALS
1920s Art Deco murals depicting African Americans in prohibition era attire have been uncovered during the renovation work at the Louisa Hotel. This is the only known historic jazz club with the original murals intact remaining in Seattle. The goal is to restore and preserve the murals before making them open to the public.
These murals are over 100 years old and are now in dire need of preservation work. In some places the paint is peeling and the plaster is crumbling. The total cost of the whole project which consists of saving, restoring, preserving and opening these murals to the public is approximately $180,000.
These murals were originally slated for demolition. It has been a difficult journey to leave them in place. If we don’t restore the murals, they will disappear, and we will have lost an important part of Seattle’s history
At one point, Club Royale was called the “Hong Kong Chinese Society”. The club served beer in old fashioned tin buckets, earning its nickname, “The Bucket of Blood”. Newspapers at the time called it “Seattle’s most colorful and flourishing nightclub”. It was considered a high class place.
The club was raided on February 11, 1931 led by Seattle Police Department Lt. Frank Olmstead, whose brother is famous bootlegger, Roy Olmstead. Articles mention the jazz band was playing so loud that patrons didn’t know the raid was happening until officers walked on to the stage and handcuffed the piano player. Club Royale was shut down and forgotten until we uncovered these murals.
These jazz clubs were once a diverse place that welcomed white, black, and Asian communities. This jazz scene broke through many color and social barriers and united communities.
Newspapers in the early 20th century often overlooked black musicians; they would only cover crime and violence. Seeing these murals and learning about its history will help tell these forgotten stories about the influences of jazz and pre-Civil Rights racial segregation and unity.
Seattle is famous for its pioneering music scene. Jazz music in Seattle was one of the most important music movements until Nirvana. All the physical remnants of the Seattle jazz clubs have disappeared to redevelopment. These murals are all that remain.
Be a Part of the story
There are very few public exhibits that tie the community to their past in Chinatown. Growing up in this community, residents have no idea the history that this neighborhood holds.
We invite you to be a part of this narrative. Please help us fund the preservation work to save these murals and save a rare piece of Seattle’s history.
During Prohibition, the basement of the Hotel Louisa hosted two speakeasies. On the west side, with an entrance off the alley running between Seventh Avenue South and Maynard Avenue South, was the Blue Heaven, a space later occupied by the Wah Mee club. On the east side, with an entrance down a stairwell from Seventh Avenue South and connected to the other venue by a secret passageway, was the Club Royale, popularly known as the “Bucket of Blood,” a slang term for an illicit or dangerous nightclub. The name may also have derived from the club’s practice of serving beer in large pails, or “buckets.”)
Whatever its popular monikers, the name Club Royale was emblazoned in art deco lettering above the stairwell entrance, along with wall murals depicting stylish men in tuxedos and women in furs. More murals, some with a Chinese floral theme, adorned the walls inside. The Seattle Star described the venue as “colorful, flourishing and fashionable” and other articles point out that prominent citizens often could be found drinking there. The lettering and the murals have survived. No one knows who painted them, but it’s quite possible they were done by Ted or Louella Tagholm. They were the children of one of the building’s owners, Louis Tagholm, and both were commercial artists whose work suggests they could easily have executed murals in a deco style.
The Club Royale appears to have been in business for about two-and-a-half years. According to newspaper articles, the establishment probably opened in August, 1930, a year after Charlie Louie set up shop at the Chinese Gardens across the street. Both offered liquor, food, gambling and jazz during a lively era when such establishments were plentiful all over the city, particularly in the Chinatown International District and the Central District. In his memoir, the great New Orleans clarinetist Joe Darensbourg recalled playing at the Club Royale with the prominent West Coast saxophonist Gerald Wells. Newspapers also report that a well-known local pianist, Anson “Polly” Butler, was arrested there during a raid conducted by Federal “dry agents.”
The operators of the Club Royale have never been conclusively identified. The place was sometimes called the Hong Kong Chinese Society, but that name was a front, as the owners were not Chinese. Newspaper accounts suggest it was run by a ring of petty gangsters who owned eleven drinking establishments. During this period, Seattle police officers were often bribed to “look the other way,” which put them at odds with Federal agents charged with enforcing Prohibition to the letter. After several raids, the relentless Feds appear to have finally closed down the Club Royale, padlocking its doors on New Year’s Eve, 1932.
Paul de Barros
Seattle jazz historian
Research Funded by a grant from: