I was excited to see that The Davenport Hotel has been restored to its original glory days. I hadn’t visited the hotel since the early l960’s when I worked in Spokane, and would occasionally eat in the Coffee shop.
I loved the informality of the coffee shop, and when I ordered my breakfast, (surprisingly affordable) I basked in the history of The Davenport.
Although at that time, “the times they are a changin'” and not all the changes were good: especially for the courtly Davenport hotel.
Under pressure for the Davenport to reflect the changing times, the hotel received an extensive cosmetic makeover that was light years from its former elegance.
The make-over reflected a popular style of décor, known as “doo wop”. This remodeling translated into shag carpets, paneling, plastic and white paint.
Many people were spending their leisure time and in a more ‘leisure manner’. Families traveling with children wanted little more from a hotel than a ‘clean and well-lighted place” as opposed to a more formal hotel with doormen, bellmen and elevator operators.
Moreover, there was TV in almost every home and people were watching it. No longer was their a need to dress up and go to The Davenport hotel where Bing Crosby might be a featured guest.
About the only thing that could be said for the ‘doo wop’ remodeling was that it kept the hotel afloat for a few more years.
Elvis Presley stayed at the Ridpath.
To add insult (the tacky decorations) to injury (a Big Snub) Elvis Presley came to Spokane on August 30 and again in l973 and stayed at the Ridpath Hotel.
The Davenport Rises from the Ashes
The Davenport came close to being demolished but in l986 Spokane council woman (later Mayor) Sheri Barnard learned of the possible demolition, and immediately went into action. She called for a meeting of all people who were interested in the future of the Davenport hotel and from that gathering came “Friends of the Davenport.
Finding a buyer however proved daunting and the wrecking ball loomed on the horizon.
But in May 2000, Davenport Sun International Hotels Inc. sold the Davenport Hotel to Walt and Karen Worthy.
In 2000 Walt Worthy, (Spokane property developer) bought the hotel for $6.5 million and launched a $36 million restoration.
And the rest of the story is ‘worthy’ of Walt and Karen’s last name. The Worthys restored the Davenport to its original glory and ‘gave’ it back to the Spokane people who so loved it.
The Davenport reopened its doors in September 2002.
My next Davenport visit was the 50th Anniversary Reunion Lewis and ClarkHigh School Class of 1960.
When we walked into the huge elegant lobby (inspired by the Spanish Renaissance style) I felt I was in the original hotel.
The art glass panels in the ceiling gave the lobby an atrium effect and flooded the lobby (popularly referred to as Spokane’s living room) with natural light. The ceiling beams are cast plaster with faux wood graining. Much of the detail was lost due to decades of smoke in the lobby. The beams were cleaned with spray bottles of Simple Green and soft tooth brushes thus restoring them to the original beautiful burgundy, teal and gold colors.
In the early l960’s when I sat in the lobby, I was smoking. I had no idea at the time what that smoke was doing to the beautiful ornamental work. (When it was restored, Artist Melville Holmes (who planned the decorative restoration of the public rooms) instructed the workers to use gold leaf instead of gold paint.)
I noticed that the fountain in the center of the room had gold fish in it just as it had before, and the fountain was crowned with an assortment of red, yellow, orange, and purple flowers.
We left the fountain and walked over to the fireplace at the far end of the room.
Architect Kirtland Cutter lit the first fire in September of 1914. Louis Davenport decreed that the fire must never be allowed to burn out as it was a symbol of hospitality. (The fireplace (now gas) burns year-round still following
Mr. Davenport’s wishes.
The Davenport hosts celebrities.
In years past The Davenport has hosted a lot of celebrities— among them are Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon: There have been stage and movie stars such as Sarah Bernhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable and Ethel Barrymore.
Amelia Earhart stayed at the Davenport as well as Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh.
Vachel Lindsay dining with his dolls at the Davenport
As a writer, the celebrity story that interested me had to do with the poet Vachel Lindsay.
I read this account in the wonderful book Spokane’s Legendary Davenport Hotel, by
Tony Bamonte and Suzanne Schaeffer Bamonte.
It seems that the famed writer and poet who published his best work, “General William Booth Enters Heaven” again ‘entered heaven’ when he entered The Davenport (with financial assistance from Spokane attorney, Ben H. Kizer and Louis Davenport) during the summer of l924.
He quickly made himself at home and was often seen mingling with guests, writing or reciting poetry or just sitting around the fireplace.
But a little of Mr. Lindsay went a long way, and before long he began to make the guest uncomfortable.
Apparently, the eccentric Mr. Lindsay had two cloth French-boudoir dolls which were popular at the time and they were often seen in his company.
The dolls had long arms and legs and ‘peculiar faces.’ and were a sight to behold.
The dolls became Mr. Lindsay’s frequent ‘companions’ in public places.
Just imagine the stir Mr. Lindsay created when he came into the dining room his two dolls. The waiters were instructed to place high chairs at his table and when Mr. Lindsay showed up, the waiters were expected to take the ‘dolls’ orders.
Can’t you just imagine what that must have looked like to the other guests?
Mr. Lindsay in his black rain coat (when others were coatless) sitting with his peculiar French dolls at the table giving his dinner order and requesting that the waiter also takes the doll’s food order.
Would the waiter begin with, Vous desirez?, and then suggest that they might enjoy the poussins with cherry sauce? Bon appetit!
In Lindsay’s poem “A Sense of Humor”, he writes:
No man should stand before the moon
To make sweet song thereon
With dandified importance
His sense of humor gone
Unfortunately Mr. Lindsay ‘sense of humor’ wore thin with the public (and perchance it challenged Mr. Davenport’s as well) and in 1929 Lindsay moved to Springfield Illinois where he ended his own life on December 5, 1931.
Back to the reunion
The banquet was held in the elegant Grand Pennington Ballroom. The room was built during the $30 million renovation of the main hotel.
The chandeliers are original and each purchased at a cost of $l0, 000. (A family home in those days cost $8000!
After the banquet, we went back to the lobby and my husband visited with more of his classmates.
As he talked about the good ol’ times at L.C. and went through the Memory Book, I sat back and absorbed all the ‘good ghosts’ and past guests of the Davenport.
I thought about Dorothy Rochon Powers who was a fan of the Davenport Hotel; a woman who came to Spokane in l943 and retired in l988. She was a news reporter, feature writer, columnist and editor for the Spokesman-Review, and wrote hundreds of thousands of words about the Davenport Hotel.
When I was a teenager growing up in Eastern Washington, I wrote her a fan letter telling her how much I admired column in the Spokesmen-Review and told her that I wanted to become a writer. Did she have any advice?
I assumed that she had no advice (at least none that she wanted to share) because I never heard back from her. Since it was my first ‘fan’ letter I was crushed.
Oh well, I became a writer anyway.
As my husband continued to talk to his LC classmates (go Tigers, rah rah) I channeled the ghost of Nell Shipman, Silent Screen Actress.
Nell stayed at the Davenport Hotel in the spring of l922 (taking over the Tyrone Power’s Studio).
Nell was impressed with the hotel and her cast and crew stayed there while she was raising money for the production of her feature called “The Grub Stake.”
When she left Spokane, she moved her production company to Priest Lake where she built a studio and movie camp called Lionhead Lodge.
Why part did Nell Shipman play in my life? She inspired me to write a play about her life as an actress, writer, producer and animal trainer.
The next morning we checked out of our hotel. As I closed the door to our room, I was reminded of something Mr. Davenport said 90 years ago, (No, I wasn’t around then, I saw it on the TV hotel channel) “We hope you are so well pleased with your visit here that you will be glad you came, sorry to leave and eager to return.”