Billy Bloch and the Germania Café

~posted by Jade D.

Did you know October is Archives month? In a belated nod to German-American Day (October 6) and the various Oktoberfests (and Booktoberfests) happening this month, we decided to highlight some recent German-flavored additions to our digital collection.

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Now a part of our Seattle Historic Photograph Collection, these photographs depict the life of William Bloch, a German immigrant who came to Seattle in 1889 (arriving just before the Great Fire which destroyed a large portion of downtown). After the dust settled, Bloch opened the Germania Café, a restaurant, bar and social club located at the corner of Second and Seneca which specialized in German delicacies and imported beer. With the advent of the Klondike Gold Rush and Seattle’s booming prosperity, the Germania became a popular spot for both visitors and locals. Bloch himself became a well-known figure on the Seattle scene. Often referred to as “Billy” by friends and customers, he was known for his gregarious nature, jovial hospitality, twinkling eyes and rotund build. In 1908, Bloch used his newfound wealth from the Germania to construct a large family home at 1436 E. Prospect near Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill where he lived with his wife, Minna, and two sons, William Jr. and Frank.

Unfortunately, Bloch’s bubble of prosperity burst in 1916 when Washington State passed prohibition. Beer could no longer flow freely from the Germania’s taps and so Bloch was forced to find a more roundabout way to supply his customers. On October 30, 1916, a police officer tracked a barrel of whiskey from a ship docked at the waterfront up the hill to Bloch’s Capitol Hill residence. The Germania was raided and a store of whiskey was found. To add insult to injury, one of Bloch’s employees had the misfortune to walk into the Germania while the raid was in progress carrying a suitcase which officers swiftly checked and found to hold even more whiskey. Bloch and his employee were arrested and released on bail but the Germania soon had to close.

Bloch briefly tried his hand at running another restaurant, the Orpheum (which was advertised as a soft drink restaurant) but his luck did not improve. In 1917, the Orpheum was raided, whiskey was found and Bloch was again arrested and released on bail. In 1918, just three months after his arrest, a dry squad entered the Orpheum with the express purpose of driving Bloch out of business. Anything that could be removed from the business was taken away and everything else the squad destroyed with axes. Shortly thereafter, Bloch sold his home and moved his family to Chicago where they remained for several years. When the family eventually returned to Seattle, they moved into a more modest abode near Green Lake and Bloch entered the real estate business. Despite their diminished circumstances, Bloch was still fondly remembered by many and his home once again became a spot known for its impeccable hospitality. When Bloch passed away on October 29, 1931, his obituary appeared on the front page of the Seattle Times, declaring him to be “one of Seattle’s outstanding bonifaces of the old days.”

Interested in seeing more of the Bloch family? Check out these photographs and more available in our online collections.

2 thoughts on “Billy Bloch and the Germania Café”

  1. Billy Bloch was my great grandfather. I am curious as to the source of this information – I learned a few things about my family here while researching genealogy, and I found this very interesting.

    1. Much of the information in the post came from articles in the Seattle Times Historical Newspaper database which is freely available to SPL cardholders from home. If you don’t have a SPL card, you can access the database any SPL branch. The Seattle Times also offers subscription options on their website.

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