Spokane has seen a steady rise in tourism over the years thanks to the fact that it is one of the largest cities between Seattle and Minneapolis and lies along the route to many regional attractions in the country. Historically, Spokane has been a destination for regional conventions and expositions because of the large Spokane Convention Center and the abundant hotel spaces. One hotel in the area that is a true testament to Spokane’s unwavering hospitality is the Historic Davenport Hotel. It holds a rich history in our community and is a must-stop site for those wanting to get a glimpse into Spokane’s past.
The summer of 1889 proved to be fateful for the city of Spokane and the Davenport Hotel’s first proprietor Lewellyn “Louis” Davenport. Spokane was called Spokane Falls back then, and Louis had come here in the spring of 1889 to work at his uncle’s restaurant. However, in August, a fire tore through the infant metropolis and turned 32 square blocks of what was beginning civilization into nothing but ashes. Twenty-year-old Davenport salvaged what he could, and Spokane Falls quickly rebuilt. Washington became a state that winter, and Spokane dropped the falls from its name as the city started booming, quickly becoming one of the great cities of the West.
Davenport seized the opportunity of the growing city and leased a brick building on the Northeast corner of Sprague Avenue. He worked hard to create Davenport’s Restaurant that offered over 100 items and which critics called “the finest thing of its kind in the country.” Within a decade, business was so good that Davenport was expanding into an adjoining building and hired up-and-coming architect Kirkland Cutter to make the two buildings appear as one in 1904. The two were quickly seen as a dynamic duo once the remodel added the finest ballroom in the West, the Hall of Doges, to the building.
A few years later, a group of leading Spokane businessmen would come knocking and commission the two to build a grand hotel for the growing city. In 1912 the Davenport Hotel Company was born, and preparation of the site began that year. The hotel tower itself went up in eight months, and not a single worker was seriously injured or killed during its creation, a rarity at the time. Cutter and Davenport shopped the world for ideas for their new hotel, focusing on creating all the accommodations any visitor could ask for back in the day.
The historic Davenport Hotel first opened its doors to the public on September 1, 1914 and was the first of its kind in America for many reasons. Promoted, then and now, as “one of America’s exceptional hotels,” people were in awe the day the doors opened because this was the first hotel in America with air conditioning, a central vacuum system, housekeeping carts and accordion ballroom doors. It was also the first hotel to deliver fresh ice water to guests for free through specially designed faucets in each of the 405 rooms. This service was considered a leading innovation in the hotel service industry as before, guests typically had to ring a bellhop and pay a fee to get ice water. The installation for this service alone cost Louis Davenport $25,000 but proved to be well worth it.
The grand opening celebration lasted from September 17 to 19. The hotel was a huge success and went on to see more room construction in 1917 and 1929. In 1922 the hotel was home to the first commercially licensed radio station in Spokane, known as KHQ, broadcasting until 1985. The hotel would stay in Davenport’s hands until April 26, 1945, when he sold the hotel and restaurant to the William Edris Company of Seattle for $1.5 million.
The hotel exchanged hands a few times over the next several years, with Davenport simply living in his suite at the hotel through the exchanges until he died there in 1951. In 1969 the hotel fell into the hands of Basin Industries, who announced their intention to renovate the property, but in 1972 they went bankrupt when one of the owners was convicted of securities fraud. The lenders then foreclosed on the hotel. In 1979, former governor of Montana Tim Babcock bought the building until 1985 when he had to surrender ownership of the financially ailing property back to Lomas and Nettleton. Lomas and Nettleton would then go bankrupt in 1989.
By the time the Davenport’s only son died in 1987, it was generally believed that the Davenport Hotel would be destroyed. A citizens’ group called Friends of the Davenport was founded in 1986 by city council member (and future Spokane mayor) Sheri Barnard to save the hotel. They held fundraisers in the lobby and sought a buyer to restore it. In 1990 they found help in Hong Kong businessman Patrick Wai-Meng Ng, but the real saving grace would come in March 2000 when local entrepreneurs Walt and Karen Worthy purchased the entire city block.
Two years and $38 million later, the Davenport Hotel was fully restored thanks to the Worthy purchase. They did a top-to-bottom restoration — even making the Hall of Doges a flying ballroom for a moment as they moved it from the old structure to the new East addition. The hotel officially reopened to the public on July 15, 2002 but wasn’t celebrated until its grand reopening from September 13 to 15 to highlight the building’s anniversary.
Step into the lobby these days, and the only real change is that the fireplace has gone from wood-burning to natural gas. Once referred to as “Spokane’s living room,” the fire in the fireplace that Cutler lighted initially is kept burning year-round now as a symbol of hospitality and following Mr. Davenport’s request from way back then. Much to the pleasure of everyone, the hotel still has its focus on offering the best amenities possible to make everyone’s stay enjoyable, something that we’re sure Mr. Davenport would be proud of today.