Restored Historic Hotels

by Allen Cox | Photo © Provenance Hotels

The experience of visiting—and sleeping in—hotels that the who’s who of yesteryear frequented has an allure all its own. Hoteliers who have been lucky enough to acquire historic properties and savvy enough to restore them with historic authenticity are finding that guests are drawn to their hotels as if to museums. Some were derelict and rescued from the wrecking ball. Others have operated decade after decade—never in danger of demolition—and have had extensive face lifts. Without a doubt, it’s the architectural details adorning the exteriors and interior spaces and the historic tales whispering from the skeletal backbones of the structures themselves that bring guests through the doors, whether merely to look around or to check in and claim a room. Of course, guests won’t find noisy pipes, gas lamps or aspic on the menu. Historic atmosphere and modern amenities are what these hotels are all about. Join me as I examine eight great historic hotels, each with its own tale of survival to tell.

Sentinel Hotel, Portland OR
Original construction: 1909 and 1923
Outstanding feature: The historic Italian Renaissance lobby

Occupying two of Portland’s most historic buildings—the old Seward Hotel (later the Governor Hotel) and the Elk’s Temple—the Sentinel Hotel sits as a locus of luxury downtown immediately south of the Pearl District. Current owner, Provenance Hotels, invested in renovations and inaugurated the Sentinel Hotel in 2014. Both buildings that make up the Sentinel are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visionary architect William Christmas Knighton designed the original Seward Hotel with a glazed terracotta exterior featuring a creative blending of art nouveau and Native American motifs. These design elements remain today; the present-day hotel’s namesake is the robot-like sentinels adorning the roof line. The former Elk’s Temple, today the hotel’s entrance, is one of the premier examples of Italian Renaissance architecture in the nation.

The interior is a fine example of arts & crafts design. Browse Jake’s Grill, in part occupying the former lobby, to view the massive, well-preserved murals of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Fine art adorns the interior spaces, both public and private, throughout the hotel. Provenance Hotels made smart use of the old Elk’s Temple meeting spaces by transforming them into some of the most elegant event spaces in the city, perfect for weddings.

To reserve a room or suite, go online at sentinelhotel.com.

The Davenport Hotel, Spokane WA
Original construction: 1914
Outstanding feature: The elegant Spanish Renaissance lobby

When The Davenport Hotel opened in 1914, it was with the most modern amenities available at the time—air conditioning and a central vacuum system, to name a few. Old-world elegance coupled with innovation was its draw then, and still is today. In its early years, it entertained a long list of celebrities the likes of Amelia Earhart and Clark Gable.

When it closed in the mid-80s, sadly a derelict hulk in the middle of Spokane, city brass agonized over what to do with it. Entrepreneurs Walt and Karen Worthy came to the rescue, acquiring the hotel in 2000. The old Davenport had a thorough renovation without sacrificing its original design features and has reclaimed its sobriquet “Pride of the Inland Empire.”

When you visit The Davenport, gaze up at the ornamentation that surrounds you in the Spanish Renaissance lobby, but don’t stop there. Take the stairs to the mezzanine where you can peek into the ballrooms, including the magnificent Doge’s Palace, each unique and highly detailed, and browse the gallery of historic photos, testament that the Davenport was the locus of Spokane society in its early years.

“The architect, Kirtland K. Cutter, who stands very high in national architectural circles,… achieved in this hotel a life masterpiece, a harmonious monument to his outstanding genius.”
– Louis Davenport, original owner of The Davenport Hotel

For reservations, go online at marriott.com/hotels/travel/gegak-the-historic-davenport. To plan a trip to Spokane, go to visitspokane.com.

The Marcus Whitman Hotel, Walla Walla WA
Original construction: 1927-28
Outstanding feature: Six on-site wine tasting rooms

In the late 1920s, a luxury hotel named The Marcus Whitman (after the pioneer missionary who, along with his wife and party, was massacred 80 years earlier) opened in the town of Walla Walla. With elegant lodging to offer outsiders, the city’s businessmen hoped to attract new commercial and cultural opportunities. The hotel thrived for nearly half a century, but in the 60’s fell to neglect and disrepair.

It took businessman Kyle Mussman’s vision to throw a lifeline to the Marcus Whitman Hotel and bring it back from the brink. He believed that, once again, a careful renovation could anchor Walla Walla—now a major force in the Northwest wine industry—with a luxury lodging option that evokes the charm of the original Marcus Whitman Hotel. Details were crucial, and painstaking care went into using original fixtures, furnishings and design detail wherever possible.

Today, the Marcus Whitman offers excellent event facilities, fine cuisine in The Marc Restaurant and period design and furnishings throughout, down to the guest rooms in the original tower.

For reservations, visit marcuswhitmanhotel.com. For more information about a getaway to Walla Walla, go online at wallawalla.org.

The Fairmont Empress, Victoria B.C.
Original construction: 1908
Outstanding feature: The Victorian-style Tea Lobby where High Tea is served

The Empress greets everyone boating or flying into Victoria’s postcard-perfect Inner Harbour. As soon as you check in, you are immersed in the British Empire elegance of another era. Long cherished for its old-world ambiance, The Empress embraces its stately past while subtly offering guests the most modern upgrades.

It seems inconceivable that in the 1960s, developers were considering a demolition to make way for a then modern hotel structure. If that plan had moved forward, Victoria would have lost what many consider to be its heart and soul. In 1989, what has been dubbed the Royal Restoration (at a cost of $45 million) renovated the guest rooms, added a guest reception area, health club, indoor swimming pool and spa. The work was accomplished with a focus on craftsmanship, keeping the upgrades in line with the hotel’s existing architectural features.

Since the renovation, The Empress’ elegance and traditions (such as the famous Empress High Tea served in the former lobby, now the Tea Lobby) have remained intact. Today, under the exemplary management of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, this graceful, ivy-covered Edwardian hotel maintains its elevated status as one of the grandest in Canada, if not the world.

To make reservations, visit fairmont.com/empress-victoria. For information about visiting Victoria, B.C., go to tourismvictoria.com.

The Sorrento Hotel, Seattle WA
Original construction: 1909
Outstanding feature: The octagonal, paneled Fireside Room

The Sorrento Hotel’s original opening was well-timed: only two days before the opening of Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. The hotel sits above downtown on Seattle’s First Hill, a historic neighborhood dotted with architectural reminders of turn-of-the-20th-century Seattle. This charming L-shaped jewel of a hotel graces the hillside with its Italianate facade. Inside, guests cozy up over a cocktail or high tea in the inviting Fireside Room, known for musical performances and occasional literary readings. In the warm ambiance of the Hunt Club, long a popular Seattle meeting place, guests enjoy attentive fine dining at an unrushed pace.

The Sorrento was built as a stylish boutique hotel and remains exactly that. No two guest rooms are alike. Its renovation in the 1980s and, again, slightly more than a decade ago was big news for the old hotel and for Seattle; so significant was the project that it even made the pages of Architectural Digest in 2003. And it’s no wonder; a close inspection of the building reveals exquisite details and expert workmanship.

In early 2015, watch for guest room improvements, a lobby renovation and new developments in the hotel’s food and beverage service, all designed to celebrate and energize one of Seattle’s most historic hotels.

To reserve your room, go online at hotelsorrento.com.

Geiser Grand Hotel, Baker City OR
Original construction: 1889
Outstanding feature: The cupola clock tower

When the Geiser Grand first opened its doors, Baker City was teeming with fortune hunters bent on striking it rich in the local gold rush; many did and had money to burn. The Geiser Grand earned a reputation as the finest hotel between Salt Lake City and Portland.

Not every hotel renovation receives The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Honor Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation. The Geiser Grand Hotel did receive this coveted award for the meticulous research and commitment to authenticity that went into its renovation, which went far deeper than cosmetic. Acclaimed preservationist Barbara Sidway saw what the Geiser Grand once was, with its rich history and role in an important city of the Old West, and envisioned what it could be again. She purchased the Victorian building, oversaw the arduous process of restoration (both structural and design) and reopened the hotel to guests in 1993.

Rehabilitating the Geiser Grand required extensive structural and foundation repairs, reinforcing the structure with interior steel frames, salvaging design details and replicating them where necessary and much more. The cupola clock tower had been a target for sharp shooters, so the damaged tower was removed around 1930. Sidway had the tower reproduced from historic photos and reinstalled as the crown on this award-winning preservation.

Today, guests find a building, inside and out, that is as close to the original style as possible and fits in with the surrounding historic structures, but with larger guest rooms and modern amenities that contemporary travelers require.

To book a stay at The Geiser Grand Hotel, go to geisergrand.com. To include Baker City in your Eastern Oregon travels, visit basecampbaker.com.