Aftermath of Fire
Soon after the devastating 1889 Spokane fire, young Louis Davenport, who had been leasing from his uncle a restaurant destroyed in the fire, opened a “Waffle Foundry” in the burnt-out city center. Although it had a tent-like roof, it was probably not the actual tent of popular lore. In the summer of 1890, he moved this temporary operation to permanent quarters in the Wilson Block, and renamed it Davenport’s Restaurant. In stages over several years, the restaurant expanded into a much larger and more lavish building designed by Kirtland Cutter “in an exuberant version of the mission style” (Matthews, Columbia, 4).
In 1903 Davenport acquired the adjacent three-story building, the Bellevue Block, enlarged his restaurant, and adapted the boarding house on the upper levels into the Pennington Hotel. In 1904, Davenport and Cutter created above the restaurant the elegant “Hall of the Doges,” a lavish ballroom designed to resemble the ducal palaces of Venice. Davenport’s Restaurant became the most renowned in the Inland Northwest, attracting a loyal clientele because of its beauty, service, good food, and the chance to be transported “from the humdrum environment of everyday life into a dream world” (Matthews, Columbia, 5) This characteristic would come to typify the Davenport Hotel.
Designing a Grand Hotel
On October 8, 1908, the Spokesman-Review jubilantly announced that a fabulous new hotel was in the offing, to be designed by Kirtland Cutter and his partner, Swedish-born architect Karl Malmgren. Cutter was usually the primary artist behind the Cutter and Malmgren designs, but Malmgren’s technical and engineering skills were essential to the finished buildings. The initial renderings for the Davenport showed a fanciful structure with an ornate façade and soaring towers.
It took several years to attract some 100 stockholders, whose names “read like a 'Who’s Who' of Inland Northwest businessmen and industrial and commercial enterprises” (Bamonte, 114). The respite enabled Davenport and Cutter to visit hotels in the East and find a less expensive alternative design in which “no more money than necessary was squandered on exterior ornament” (Matthews, Columbia, 7). The resulting hotel, with a simpler exterior but an opulent interior, cost roughly $2 million.
Spokane's Living Room
After demolition of the existing buildings on the site was completed in late 1912, erection of the hotel could begin, with the structural framework in place by August 1913. The interior was completed in time for the Davenport to receive its first guests on September 1, 1914. (Additional floors were added in 1917 and 1929.) In the center was a huge, elegant lobby in the style of a Spanish patio, surrounded by a mezzanine. But instead of being open to the sky like a patio, it featured a skylight. Popularly referred to as Spokane’s living room, the lobby could accommodate large banquets and exhibits, even automobile shows!
On the other public rooms as well, no cost or effort were spared -- the Marie Antoinette ballroom, the Elizabethan banquet room, and a new restaurant, the Isabella Room. The former Davenport’s Restaurant was incorporated into the hotel as its grill room, and the Hall of the Doges continued to be used for assemblies and celebrity receptions. The massive and efficient kitchens, under longtime chef Edward Mathieu, could serve 4,000 meals a day.
Elegance and Comfort
Unlike the lavish public rooms, the 406 guestrooms (370 with private baths) were simple, comfortable, and homey, with prices, except for luxury suites, correspondingly affordable. Chilled water was piped to each room, the elevators were state-of-the-art, and the Davenport was one of the first hotels to be air-cooled throughout.
Thus the hotel proved to be a fortunate combination of elegance, comfort, hospitality, and advanced technology. As important to Spokanites as to visitors from afar, the Davenport became the social and commercial center for the city -- the site of business transactions, wedding receptions, assemblies, banquets, and dances of all kinds. In addition, the hotel more than fulfilled its promoters’ goal of attracting conventions, especially for timber, mining, and agricultural organizations. For years the top two floors were given over to sample rooms where traveling salesmen could display their wares.
The Davenport hosted an amazing number of celebrity visitors. A small portion of the dazzling list includes presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon; entertainers, stage actors, and movie stars such as Will Rogers, Bing Crosby, Sarah Bernhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, and Ethel Barrymore; sports figures Babe Ruth and Joe Louis; aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart; foreign dignitaries, royalty, and many musicians, writers, and political figures. To honor the celebrity guest, the Davenport invariable put on a banquet attended by the elite of Spokane.
In its heyday, the Davenport was essentially a railroad-serviced hotel. Four major lines, the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Milwaukee Road, and numerous feeders served Spokane, and as long as most travelers arrived by train, the hotel thrived. As the automobile became the preferred mode of travel and motels proliferated, occupancy of the Davenport declined. Over the years, attempts to provide parking were only partially successful. The war years, with their shortages of labor and supplies, were hard on the hotel. Even the lobby skylight was blacked out as a civil defense measure. In 1945, the era of Louis Davenport as owner/manager ended when he retired at age 77 and sold the hotel.
Under successive owners during the 1950s and 1960s, service declined and the rather brutal renovations of the doo-wop era further diminished the appeal of this once distinguished hotel. In 1985 the Davenport closed and for years the threat of demolition hung over it. A Friends of the Davenport organization, formed in 1986 by city councilwoman and future mayor Sheri Barnard, worked doggedly to prevent its destruction until a new owner could be found to restore it.
Again, a Grand Hotel
In 2000, after several false starts by well-intentioned but unsuccessful owners, Walt Worthy, an established Spokane property developer, bought the hotel for $6.5 million and launched a $36 million restoration. Fortunately, he proved to be a man in the mold of Kirtland Cutter and Louis Davenport. With dedication, taste, and respect for history, he has restored the Davenport to its former grandeur. The architect for the renovation and restoration was Lindquist Architects (Principal, Dave Lindquist).
Artist Melville Holmes planned and supervised the decorative restoration of the public rooms. The skylight, restored by a previous owner, once more floods the lobby with the light of day. The guestroom floors were gutted, and the new guest rooms are fewer but larger and beautifully appointed. The parking problem has been solved with the construction across the street of a multistory parking garage designed to harmonize architecturally with the new entrance area.
The only part of the old hotel that did not survive the restoration was the Davenport Restaurant/Pennington portion. Considering it too deteriorated to be saved, Worthy demolished it to make way for a much needed off-street hotel entrance and porte cochere. However, before the demolition, he had the Hall of the Doges ingeniously extracted, stored, and then reinserted above the new entrance. He also incorporated some of Cutter’s original exterior features.
The Davenport Hotel reopened in September 2002. Restored to its former elegance, the grand hotel again attracts a worldwide clientele, serves as Spokane’s business and social hub, and is a major factor in the revitalization of the downtown area. Once again it is the centerpiece of Spokane, hosting a grateful clientele from near and far.