With the revitalization fervor sweeping through downtown Spokane of late (the Fox Theater, the City Terminal District, the developments along West Main, etc.), it was, until recently, easy to overlook the most ambitious and exciting of them all: the renovation of the Davenport Hotel by Walt and Karen Worthy. Well, the work here is no longer continuing sight unseen.
With last week's dramatic rescue of the hotel's famous Hall of Doges and subsequent demolition of the Pennington wing, the Worthys and their team of dreambuilders have thrust this city's largest (and probably costliest) renovation project into the forefront of public consciousness and imagination. Once again, construction at the Davenport Hotel is the talk of the town. In fact, there probably hasn't been this much buzz about the Davenport since Louis D. himself first began construction on the grand hotel nearly a century ago.
Built by erstwhile restaurateur Louis Davenport during Spokane's famed Age of Elegance -- an era of unprecedented wealth and opulence -- the Davenport Hotel was considered one of the most luxurious, accommodating and technically sophisticated of its time. Designed by Kirtland Cutter and completed in 1914, the Davenport was constructed employing only the finest materials, craftsmen and technology. Everything about it -- from the service staff to the ice cold drinking water piped to each room from an underground well to the innovative central air conditioning system -- was first class. Its restaurants and ballrooms were thematic and richly decorated in vastly different styles. It was Davenport's intent to transport his guests out of their mundane daily existences and into fantastic, exotic worlds -- all at a price that working people could afford.
Though the Davenport was operational until 1985, the hotel -- and the Pennington wing along Post Street in particular -- has been in slow decline for decades. The Worthys purchased the property last May and have since done much to restore the former grandeur of the historic structure. Through stubborn single-mindedness and painstaking attention to detail, the hotel is experiencing a true rebirth.
"We're paying a lot more than attention," jokes Worthy, who admits he's been bombarded lately with questions about the cost of the project. "Why does everybody want to talk about that? Absolutely the first question. Always."
Unfortunately, for all his imagination and drive, Worthy and his crew were unable to find a way to restore the Pennington (in reality, two separate 1890 structures that were redesigned in the Mission Revival style by Cutter in 1900). Literally falling down prior to its demolition last week, the victim of time and neglect, the Pennington was deemed unsalvageable by the developer's architects and local historic preservationists alike. Last week, Worthy treated Spokane residents to a dual spectacle. First, the extraction (by crane) of the historically significant and beautiful Hall of Doges from the building's guts, and secondly, the demolition of the Pennington itself. Now that the dust has settled at 800 W. Sprague, inquiring minds want to know what's next for the venerable Davenport.
The flurry of activity now centers on the big pile of rubble (and soon to be big hole in the ground) where the Pennington once stood. The Worthys, with help from local design groups and historical preservation advocates, have come up with a design for a new structure to occupy the Pennington site, a structure that will preserve the legacy of the original. The building now proposed will be of the same architectural style, will incorporate salvaged architectural details and will house the renovated Hall of Doges. Modern amenities will include a drive-up grand entrance on Post Street.
The new design suggested by a citizens' advisory committee made up of local historians, artists and preservationists differs considerably from an earlier -- more modern and less distinctive -- design proposed for the replacement structure. The committee's recommendations have, in large part, been adopted. It's the plan Worthy's team is running with.
Of the current drawings for the new building, Worthy says, "It is a work in progress, and some of the details are subject to change. But this is probably 70-80 percent there."
However, the idea of preserving the theme of Cutter's original structure has met with some resistance. "Most of the design people think we ought to get rid of the Mission style, but apparently, the citizens of Spokane think that we should go with it. So I think that we should and that camp is going to win out. I'm just as happy to go Mission. It'll be something different. It's charming, unique and quaint. It will probably get more looks. So that's what we're going to do."
Aside from the Hall of Doges, Worthy's team salvaged several unique structural and design elements from the old Pennington, including the clock tower, the marquee from the north side of the building, arched windows and most of Louis Davenport's private suite. Also saved were many of the decorative plaster elements that adorned the building's exterior -- that is, except for two of the Davenport crests, which were removed from the side of the building by parties unknown prior to the demolition.
"I'm sure they just thought they were going to the wrecking ball," says Worthy, who is asking for the return of the plaster emblems -- no questions asked. "We'd appreciate it if they brought them back because we plan to re-use them on the new building. The only one we were able to salvage, we broke."
Elsewhere in the hotel, the restoration of the lobby and ballrooms continues. "I suppose it depends on who you ask," says Worthy in his Southern drawl. "But we think it's going super."
Nearly completed are the restoration efforts in the main lobby and the hotel's three grand ballrooms: the Isabella, the Marie Antoinette and the Elizabethan. The main restaurant -- the Pompeiian Room -- will be located in the main hotel and will be supervised by Ian Wingate, chef and owner of Moxie in Liberty Lake.
"I'm thinking that by late summer, we should have the lobby and the ballrooms open for functions. And then by sometime toward the end of the first quarter of next year, we should have the hotel rooms ready to go."
Worthy says nearly all the restoration work is being done by local artisans, designers and craftsmen. About the slow, methodical restoration work (specifically, redoing the faux-wood grain of the plaster ceiling beams in the lobby) he quips, "All it takes is time and money."
The upper floors of the hotel have been completely stripped and gutted down to the concrete structural pillars, floors and outer walls (with the exception of horrible, '70s-era wallpaper fragments peeking out here and there). They are currently hollow shells littered with neatly heaped piles of old plumbing, tile shards and wallboard. All electrical, plumbing, windows, flooring -- everything -- will be replaced and rebuilt from the ground up.
As Worthy walks through a roughed-in luxury suite on the hotel's ninth floor, he seems almost giddy with excitement, brimming with child-like optimism. And as he outlines his vision for the future of this beloved Spokane landmark, his words echo those of Louis Davenport. It's slightly eerie, in fact, how much the two men have in common.
Davenport, like Worthy, came to Spokane with only a few bucks in his pockets and found opportunity and success through recognition of potential and an unswerving belief in self. Like Worthy, Davenport was an individualist with a flair for the dramatic who dared to dream big; a visionary with a nose for business, an eye for beauty and an appreciation of art. And like Worthy, Davenport believed in Spokane and was driven by a desire to create something enduring that would stand as a source of community pride for generations.
A resident of Spokane since the winter of 1968, Worthy recalls first being smitten by the Davenport's many charms.
"Karen and I used to come and eat here every now and then. I remember I had a hard time coming up with five dollars for dinner. I didn't have any aspirations to own it at that point in time -- although I've had the idea since 1985, since before it closed. I've been looking at it for quite awhile."
After humble beginnings restoring duplexes for quick resale, the Worthys started renovating office space and then, nearly 30 years after starting in the business, building new buildings, as in the Rock Pointe Center on North Washington.
When the restoration is completed, the Davenport will awaken after a long sleep to once again take its place among the finest hotels in the country, if not the world.
"In essence, we're going to have a brand new hotel here," says Worthy, "with all these ornate, old, wonderful features. We think we are going to have one of the nicest facilities in the country, not just Spokane. I'm not sure we're going to be able to support the five star budget as far as services, but all the amenities are going to be five star. Four for sure and in a lot of ways, five. I think the lobby and the ballrooms and that sort of thing will be just as strong a five as you're going to find anywhere."
And the Worthys have visited them all, taking notes, gleaning ideas for suite design and fixtures, amenities and finishes, color and textures.
"You can go to Chicago or Boston or Memphis or anyplace you want, I'll put this place up against the Four Seasons, the Peabody, the Beverly Wilshire, the Breakers in Palm Beach -- anything."
Worthy is a businessman ("First," he insists). But this is clearly more than just business to him. There's no denying the twinkle in his eye or the pride in his voice as he shows off the completed interior work and speaks of the hotel's return to its former splendor. He sounds very much like someone in love.
Lura Sheahan, Worthy's project coordinator at the Davenport, agrees: "He loves this building. But it's hard for him to admit it. It's a guy thing."
Worthy himself puts a slightly different spin on it. "It's got to be a mid-life crisis," he says, candidly. "Some guys get a whale-tail Porsche and a 25-year-old wife. I'm trying to get a whale-tail Porsche and a 90-year-old mistress. I think my wife appreciates that, probably."