By Paul Schlienz
In his 1947 classic, “Inside U.S.A.,” journalist John Gunther described Spokane’s Davenport Hotel as the best between Seattle and Minneapolis.
From its opening in 1914, the Spokane landmark that is now known as The Historic Davenport Hotel was always something special.
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The good old days
“In the early 1900s, there were a lot of hopes and aspirations that Spokane was going to become the next Chicago because of all the money coming into the area due to agriculture, mining in northern Idaho and its easy access to railroads,” said Matt Jensen, corporate director of sales and marketing for The Davenport Hotels Collection. “That was all great, but the one thing Spokane didn’t have was a fine hotel to support all this new money coming into town.”
A group of local investors got together and tapped a local restaurateur named Louis Davenport to run the new hotel, which would be designed by Kirtland Cutter, a renowned Spokane architect who had studied in Europe.
The original 450-room hotel opened to great fanfare. In addition to its elegance, it had many other unique features, according to Jensen, including one of the largest phone switching centers on the West Coast, regular, hot and cold water in each room, ice-cold drinking water directly from a well beneath the hotel and an early example of air walls, which are movable barriers that partition large areas of exhibit halls or meeting rooms.
Starting in 1922, the hotel housed KHQ, Spokane’s first radio station, featuring broadcasts of local bands, including one with a Gonzaga University dropout named Bing Crosby, on drums.
The hotel also figures in culinary history for it was in the Davenport’s kitchen, in 1915, that crab Louie, shrimp Louie and lobster Louie originated, their names honoring Louis Davenport himself.
And every sitting U.S. president between 1914 and 1985 visited this great hotel in the heart of Spokane.
Decline and fall
In 1945, Louis Davenport sold his hotel to a friend who promised to maintain his high standards. Instead, according to Jensen, the friend sold the hotel a year later for a $1 million profit.
“The hotel slipped into a deep decline from the 1950s to the 1980s,” said Jensen, a Spokane native who remembers being appalled at the hotel’s condition when he went there for his high school prom in 1984. “By 1985, it was in such disrepair that it couldn’t be operated anymore as a hotel. It closed its doors in 1985 and stayed closed for 17 years.”
Sadly, once the Davenport Hotel died, it took a large portion of downtown Spokane along with it. Many businesses closed and the area began to rot. The hotel itself, which seemed a certain candidate for the wrecking ball, was only saved by fears of the asbestos cloud that would have accompanied a demolition.
In 2000, two local commercial developers, Walt and Karen Worthy, bought the old Davenport and began renovating it, removing asbestos and creating a modern lodging establishment on the bare bones of the original structure while preserving the elegant exterior and the stunning lobby and ballrooms.
Reopening in 2002 to great fanfare and re-christened as The Historic Davenport Hotel, its update was such a success that it soon became obvious that it needed more guest rooms. The result was that the Davenport collection grew with the opening of The Davenport Tower in 2007. In 2009, it added The Davenport Lusso, and in 2015 it opened The Davenport Grand. Finally, in 2018, it bought the former Hotel RL at the Park, turning it into The Centennial Hotel, bringing the number of guest rooms to 1,700, spread over five properties.
The second coming of the Davenport also helped revive a large portion of downtown Spokane. Numerous businesses sprung up to serve the hotel’s guests in formerly derelict and decaying buildings. Nightlife began returning to the heart of the city.
“It’s amazing to think that the Davenport almost turned into a parking lot,” said Kate Hudson, public relations manager with Visit Spokane. “By saving the Davenport, the Worthys helped save downtown Spokane. It wouldn’t have happened without the renovation of that historic hotel.”
Heart of Spokane, a heart for Spokane
The Davenport Hotels are also very involved in supporting worthy causes in the community.
In partnership with River Park Square, each December the Davenport Hotels participate in a raffle event called Christmas Tree Elegance in support of the Spokane Symphony Orchestra. Last year, according to Jensen, more than $400,000 in tickets were sold to support the symphony.
The Davenport Hotels are also a major supporter of the Community Cancer Fund, a Spokane charity for cancer patients and their families.
“We have a great relationship with the Worthys and The Davenport Hotels,” said Jerid Keefer, co-founder and executive director of the Community Cancer Fund. “They’ve been hugely supportive of us. With their help and generosity, we’ve been able to provide free lodging at their hotels for cancer patients and their families who’ve come to Spokane for treatment. Without their help and support, I don’t know if this program could exist in this form.”
For Jensen, it’s all about love for the community.
“It’s a big community,” Jensen said. “We love Spokane and try to give back to it as much as we can.”
Although he’s unsure exactly what’s next for The Davenport Hotels, Jensen says the chain is always looking to expand to new properties.
“We’re rolling, but it all started with The Historic Davenport Hotel – always our bread and butter, and still rightly so. It’s still iconic and still a center point in downtown Spokane.”