On September 1, 1914, restaurateur Louis M. Davenport's (1868-1951) Davenport Hotel opens in downtown Spokane. Designed by Spokane architect Kirtland Kelsey Cutter (1860-1939) and realized through the efforts of local civic leaders, the grandly elegant Davenport Hotel is designed to attract conventions, business travelers, and tourists to the city.
The Davenport's construction process had commenced on October 9, 1912, when existing buildings on the site began to be demolished. Construction cost between $2.5 and $3 million dollars. At the time it opened, it was 12 stories tall. Additional floors were added in 1917 and 1929.
A Great Crowd
Under the headline, "Davenport Attracts Great Crowd During First Hours After Opening," The Spokesman-Review stated:
"The Davenport Hotel ... was opened to the public yesterday afternoon at 5 o'clock, and within 20 minutes 54 persons had inscribed their names on the register and been assigned apartments. Coincident with the arrival of the first guests hundreds of townspeople who had not had the opportunity to inspect the magnificent establishment before began to flock in and soon the lobbies, drawing room, mezzanines, and corridors were thronged. Clarence A. Chase, associate manager, placed every available attaché of the place at their disposal to guide them through the different departments, and Mr. Chase estimated that 10,000 persons visited the hotel between the opening hour and midnight" (September 2, 1914).
Four hundred diners enjoyed the first meal served in the elegant Isabella dining room. Workers had been installing fixtures throughout the hotel up until the moment the doors opened, and at The Spokesman-Review noted that a few electrical fixtures and the marble top of the registration desk were not yet in place.
Charles R. Sligh of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first guest to register. Sligh's furniture company had supplied the Davenport with furnishings and draperies. Spokane residents Adolph and Maude E. Galland registered second.
A Unique Opening
A retrospective newspaper article dating from the time of Louis Davenport's death stated:
"The hotel's opening was unique in the history of hotel operation and made Mr. Davenport a luminary in the world of innkeepers. The evening of the gala affair, the hundreds of guests inspecting the hotel were amazed to discover Indians in full regalia of white buckskin and feathered headdresses wandering through the public rooms. Members of the Blackfeet tribe from Glacier park, they were guests of the hotel and lived in tepees which they pitched on the roof. The president of the Great Northern and a lifelong friend of Mr. Davenport brought the Indians over from the park in a special train, in honor of the opening" (quoted in Miss Spokane, p. 86).
Louis Hill (1872-1948), a moving force in the creation and promotion of Glacier National Park and the son of Great Northern Railway founder James J. Hill (1838-1916), was at this time the chairman of the Great Northern.
A Home-spot For Spokane
The Sunday before the Davenport's grand opening The Spokesman-Review published an entire section devoted to advance praise of the hotel and larded with advertisements for the many businesses whose products had been employed in its construction. According to the opening article, the builders "want the hotel to be a home-spot for Spokane and the Inland Empire ... that is why, instead of trying to awe the visitor with gold leaf and marble columns and glittering chandeliers, the hotel will endeavor to attract him by the homelikeness of its design and the unobtrusive cheerfulness of its service" (August 30, 1914, p. 1).
Unobtrusively cheerful though the service may have been, the avalanche of articles that follow belie notions of hominess for all but visitors whose homes were well appointed mansions.
Under the headline "Beauty Spots of the New Hotel," the supplement stated:
"The Spanish lobby -- a softly lighted rotunda finished in dull woods mellowed by age, stained in rich, soft colors and ornamented in bronze and old leather. Medieval Europe and Moorish genius are blended in the carvings and paintings. The Chinese buffet -- Teakwood carving, wainscoting of sukiwood inlaid with ebony, blues, red and yellows everywhere, and the final touch of oriental atmosphere provided by light admitted through oiled-paper panes, set in latticed windows. The Marie Antoinette ballroom -- A hall where bright lights are softened by tapestries, hangings and upholsteries of delicate blue and rose silk, satin and velvet. The furniture of Versailles in the time of Louis XVI. The Elizabethan banquet room -- Beamed ceiling, walls and furnishings in sturdy English style. The Mermaid tavern of Shakespeare's day translated into terms of modern architecture. The Pompeian barber shop -- A spotless place in white marble and glistening tiles, relieved by the dull green of Pompeian bronze and the glow of red leather. The Italian roof garden -- A formal arrangement of flowers and shrubbery, with old marbles and fountains al fresco, near a Florentine palace" (p. 1).
How close the Blackfeet's rooftop encampment was to the Italian roof garden is not explained.
Everybody Is Talking About It
Visitors from across the country heaped praise on the lavish Davenport. The Spokesman-Review interviewed C. J. Blanchard, described in the article as a statistician for the reclamation service in Washington, D.C., who with his photographer H. T. Cowling was documenting western reclamation projects in preparation for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco: "The Davenport Hotel will be the best advertisement for Spokane the city ever had. It is a dream. The traveling public all over the country knows of the Davenport's restaurant and the Davenport Hotel will soon be just as well known and just as much talked of in the East" (September 4, 1914).
After Louis Davenport's retirement in 1945 the hotel slowly declined, still locally beloved but shedding much of its former glamour. In 1985 the hotel was closed. Saved from demolition through the efforts of the Friends of the Davenport Hotel, the hotel quietly languished until purchased by Spokane property developer Walt Worthy in May 2000 for $6.5 million. Worthy gave the hotel a $38 million dollar renovation. Still under renovation, the Davenport welcomed its first guests in nearly two decades on July 15, 2002. Nearly 11,000 people lined up to tour the historic hotel, restored once more to its former glamour. The Davenport officially celebrated its grand reopening on September 13-15, 2002.