Audio on this page read by Joe Seamons
Welcome to the former site of the Golden West Hotel! The 1939 Green Book was the first edition to list Seattle at all, and our sole listing was the Golden West Hotel. This is the very building in which it resided, and if you look up at the north outer wall of the building, a painted sign for the Golden West Hotel can still be seen faintly, in red.
The Golden West was owned in the 1920s by E. Russell ‘Noodles’ Smith, African American businessman who also owned the Black & Tan Club (aka Alhambra Cabaret) during its heyday. The expansive Golden West Hotel included an on-site barbershop, dining room, pool hall, and club.
Noodles is an infamous character in the history of Seattle’s jazz nightclubs. It appears that Noodles was the figure who brought the core components of the Black & Tan Club together: when prominent jazz musicians came to town, many stayed at one of Noodles’ two hotels, which were some of the few hotels in town which would accommodate African-American travelers, and he invited those same musicians to come perform special shows at his nightclubs late in the evening, after their formal engagement had ended.
410 Seventh Ave. – still an existing address – was the entrance to the Golden West Club, also known at one point as the Little Harlem, where pianist Palmer Johnson remembered performing. In 1937-38, Noodles Smith ran another club on the fourth floor of the same building called the Ubangi. (Jazz clubs in those days often favored African names – the Congo Room flourished across the street from the Green Dot – to suggest the excitement and ethnic roots of the music). The Ubangi was fancy, with potted palms and a high bandstand. It debuted with a famous Los Angeles band led by Les Hite, which played there 12 weeks with a chorus line from L.A.’s Cotton Club. Cab Calloway also played the Ubangi, as did locals Johnson, Marian Fulmighter and Noodles’ girlfriend, singer Zelma Winslow.
Noodles also managed his club’s relationships with the police and with City Hall during the era of Prohibition. These relationships were delicate and extremely expensive. Despite the bribes, Noodles' clubs were still sometimes raided by local police, but these interruptions posed little actual threat to his operation. After being booked, Noodles would immediately pay his own bail and that of any of his staff caught up in the raid. Often the club would be open again before the night had ended with no further interference by the police.
However, bribery wasn't the only strategy he employed to manage or outwit the authorities. In 1925, the Seattle Times reported that federal prohibition agents raided the Golden West and chased out dozens of patrons, arrested three men, and confiscated moonshine whiskey and gin. The article noted that “[t]he Golden West... had an elaborate system of electrical equipment whereby lights were flashed by ‘lookouts’ to warn guests and proprietors of impending raids… [Seattle] Police Lieutenant Gus Hasselblad today said he recently staged a raid on the Golden West, but by the time his men had reached the upper floor the ‘signal lights’ had flashed and when the police broke through the doorway they found ‘prayer meetings’ in progress.”
Noodles' nephew, Robert Wright, described him thusly in an oral history interview with Esther Mumford in 1975:
"Well, 'Noodles' was self-made man... he didn't have much formal education, but he did educate himself through correspondence schools, and through reading, and he had a lot of motherwit. He... made many a study of people, and he knew what made them tick, and he exploited that, he just used that to better himself... He wasn't much of a drinker himself, he said, "whiskey is made to sell, not to drink." And he always... aspired to better himself, and he loved good food, and good clothes...and travel. And he was well-known from coast to coast... you could go almost anywhere in the United States, and say 12th and Jackson, and somebody would say, 'Oh, yeah, there's Noodles Smith.' 12th and Jackson was just like Beale Street ... And in the '30s, it was quite the place, 12th and Jackson."
As for why he was called Noodles, in 1925 he gave this account of his nickname’s origin: “When I was young in Denver many years ago, no matter what I was doing, sitting in a little game, playing the races, or anything else, and no matter how poor my luck would be, I’d always save a dime, no matter how thin, to get a bowl of noodles with.” But you, too, might choose to go by Noodles if your given first name was "Elmer" and that didn’t suit your cosmopolitan image! (Jokes aside - Elmer was a fairly popular name in the late 1800s and early 1900s, so Noodles may have been trying to distinguish himself from the rest.)
In 1927, Noodles sold the Golden West Hotel to the Jackson Hotel Company, a Japanese business which operated several Seattle hotels catering to African-American guests. After the sale, the hotel was managed by Thomas Koyoshi. It was listed in the Green Book up through the 1940 issue and continued to advertise “Special rates to Railroad & Theatrical People.”Read More
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