The historic Totem House Fish & Chips building was constructed in 1939 as Northwesters’ Arts & Crafts Shop, according to the Burke Museum. Contrary to popular belief – totem poles are not from this region. They were first created by Northwest Coast Indigenous communities in Alaska and British Columbia. In 1899, a pole in Tongass Island, Alaska was chopped down & stolen from the Tlingit by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce & displayed in Pioneer Square as post-Gold Rush civic boosterism. Over the years, totem poles became associated with Seattle & overshadowed local Native and Coast Salish art.
The carvers of the poles at Totem House have also been misrepresented – past shop owners said the front pole was made by Nuu-chah-nulth carver Jimmy John from Vancouver Island. The pole’s style was later identified as Haida, & John was more likely the carver of the two posts inside the restaurant. A 1939 newspaper article was found that identified the front pole carvers as non-Native shop employees – who probably copied a pole carved by Haida artist Zacherias Nicholas. Totem House Seafood & Chowder operated in this space from 1948-2010. It was later home to a Red Mill Burgers, and then a Pagliacci’s Pizza, though without all the cool native goodness that made the space so amazing.