The Lester Apartments was a building in the west side of Beacon Hill, Seattle, Washington, United States. It was constructed in 1910–1911, originally intended to be the world's largest brothel. After scandal (and women's suffrage) forced Seattle mayor Hiram Gill from office, the building was converted to be an ordinary apartment house. It met a disastrous end when a B-50 Superfortress crashed into it in 1951, causing a fire that engulfed the building.
Hiram Gill was elected Seattle mayor in 1910 on an "open city" platform, but the city soon got even more than it bargained for. He re-appointed Charles "Wappy" Wappenstein, previously dismissed for corruption, as chief of police. Their administration was dramatically corrupt, to the point of being a national news story. Among other things, police chief Wappenstein cut a graft deal with vice bosses Clarence Gerald and Gideon Tupper: his payoffs amounted to a US$10 per month tax on prostitutes, paid into Wappenstein's pocket. Tupper and Gerald decided to capitalize on their situation and formed the Hillside Improvement Company to build a resort on the west side of Beacon Hill (just uphill from Sicks’ Seattle Brewing and Malting Company, the Rainier Brewery, now Tully's Coffee) including a 500-room brothel, a wood-frame building so big that it required a street vacation, and which would have been the world's largest brothel.
Gill was recalled from office February 9, 1911 and the 500 "cribs" were combined into ordinary multi-room apartments. The building came to be known as the Lester Apartments. Eventually, many Boeing workers at nearby Boeing Field took up residence there, especially during World War II.
The proximity to Boeing Field proved to be the building's downfall. On August 13, 1951 at about 2:15 P.M., a Boeing B-50D-110-BO Superfortress bomber, 49-0268, took off from Boeing Field on a flight to check out military equipment. Three Air Force men and three Boeing employees were aboard. The plane developed engine trouble immediately after taking off. The starboard wing nicked the top of the brewery and the plane cartwheeled into the apartment house, killing the plane's crew of six. The plane had 4,000 US gallons (15,000 l) of fuel, and all engines were on. The collision and resulting conflagration killed five of the building's residents and injured eleven others. The building was damaged beyond repair.
- Cory Graff (2008), Boeing Field, Arcadia Publishing, ISBN 0-7385-5615-7, p. 100 has a nearly full-page image of the wreckage of the Lester Apartments and specifically mentions that Interstate 5 now runs through where the building stood.
- David Wilma, Gill, Hiram C. (1866–1919), HistoryLink.org Essay 2755, 27 October 2000. Accessed 22 January 2007.
- Although an image in Alan J. Stein's HistoryLink essay shows Rainier's old brewery in the Georgetown neighborhood, even closer to Boeing Field, it was clearly this more northerly brewery. The photograph Crowd gathered after plane crash at Lester Apartments, Seattle, August 13, 1951 on the site of the University of Washington Library shows a building that is part of the brewery. That building is still standing in 2008, and can be seen in the photo accompanying this article.
- Richard C. Berner, Seattle 1900–1920: From Boomtown, Urban Turbulence, to Restoration (1991), Seattle: Charles Press, ISBN 0-9629889-0-1, pp. 118–121.
- Alan J. Stein, B-50 Bomber crashes into the Lester Apartments near Boeing Field, killing 11, on August 13, 1951, HistoryLink, October 2, 2002. Accessed online 30 August 2008.
- Mayors of Seattle, Seattle City Archives. Accessed online 30 August 2008.
- Crowd gathered after plane crash at Lester Apartments, Seattle, August 13, 1951, University of Washington Library (photograph)
- Alan J. Stein, B-50 Bomber crashes into the Lester Apartments near Boeing Field, killing 11, on August 13, 1951, HistoryLink, October 2, 2002.