New Historical Walking Tour

We have released yet another downloadable PDF file, this time of “The Davenport Hotel: Historical Walking Tour.”  We will maintain corresponding icons in the sidebar menu to view and download this and other handy documents in the future.

Another brochure??? And why did we do it?

Our other brochure, “Art & Ornament in the Davenport Hotel” was loosely based on the old walking tour, but we chose a historical preservation focus for that one. Afterwards, we had so much good text left over that it seemed a shame to waste it, so we used it on this new walking tour. The two brochures overlap in places, but differ in audience appeal.

We won’t claim that our walking tour is the best that anyone could ever do. We just happen to think ours is the most accurate in print.  We would dearly love to supply the brochures ourselves, but we do not have the resources to supply the entire public. At least we can offer readers the option of downloading this for themselves on 8 1/2 X 11″ paper. Just remember to click that little print box that says, “Fit to Size” so it will fold correctly.


Art & Ornament Brochure

Detail of the “Green Man” from the Marie Antoinette Ballroom.

We are happy to announce a downloadable PDF file of our new trifold brochure, “Art & Ornament in the Davenport Hotel.” Click on the brochure icon at the right to view this document. The map icon below that will take you to downloadable PDFs containing maps of the main Hotel areas.

We believed the time had come for a more accurate guide to the Davenport Hotel’s features than currently existed. Our brochure includes information about the Hotel’s 2000-2002 renovation, as well as historical information about the art and ornamentation of its interior.

We hope to eventually produce an expanded souvenir booklet that will include more detail, anecdotal accounts, and more photos. Until then, we hope this will suffice for the casual tourist, the historic preservation advocate, or even the serious Davenport aficionado.

Heraldic Emblems

Among the most admired and least understood aspects of the decorative plasterwork in the Davenport Hotel are the heraldic devices on the beams of the Lobby and over the crowns of the elevators of the main floor. All of the shields throughout the hotel originate in history, although they have been redesigned and thinly disguised for a traveler’s fantasy.

The Davenport’s architectural decorations depict adventure, trade and commerce, evoking comparisons with the great trading empires of the ancient world, one following upon another. Drawing us through the kingdoms of the European Renaissance, they then transport us from there to the New World, where we eventually end up in the Inland Northwest. Clearly, the investors and developers of the Davenport Hotel saw themselves as the heirs of this historical swell. Although little more than a nod has been paid to the decorative shields themselves, much has been written about the reason for choosing the Hotel’s Florentine facade and the overall scheme of the public rooms.

If we now take into consideration the wonderful Northwest, in which this Hotel is located, with its marvelous crops and fabulous mines; if we keep in mind the type of progressive citizens that go to make up its life, coming as they do from all corners of the globe; if we contemplate the splendid courage and commendable public spirit of those who erected this magnificent hostelry: — and if we, then, hark back to the Florence of the past with its wealthy Burghers, and compare it with the Spokane of the present and its successful pioneers, — we are certain to feel how fitting it is that the exterior of this Hotel should have been patterned after the Florentine style. (Davenport Hotel, Spokane, U.S.A. : the pride of an empire : one of America’s exceptional hotels, W.K. Shissler, 1915)

The shield pictured above comes from an elevator crown on the main floor and is a reworked version of the heraldic emblem of the united Spanish kingdoms of Castilla y León (meaning “Castle and Lion,” although the name León seems to have come from the Latin word for “Legion” ). The actual coat of arms depicts a castle with its three towers, rather than a single tower, in opposite quadrants, as well as a rampant lion in the other two opposing quadrants. The Visigothic queen, Isabela II of Castilla, inherited that original coat of arms before her marriage to Fernando (Ferdinand) of Aragón, which then united their kingdoms, as well. Although these symbols are common throughout Europe, it is the arrangement of them in the design that evokes memories of the kingdom of Castilla y León (Castile and León).

Coat of Arms of the Catholic Monarchs, 1492-1504.

“… las armas de Castilla y León pasan en primer lugar. 1 y 4 cuartelado de Castilla y León, 2, 3 partido de Aragón y Aragón-Sicilia, soportado por el águila de San Juan y timbrado con una corona real abierta.”

English: The quartered arms of Castilla and León appear in the first and third quadrant of the escutcheon. The arms of Aragón and Aragón-Sicily appear in the second and third quarters. The arms are supported by the eagle of St. John and topped by an open royal crown.

Source: Menéndez-Pidal De Navascués, Faustino; El escudo; Menéndez-Pidal y Navascués, Faustino; O´Donnell, Hugo; Lolo, Begoña. Símbolos de España. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales, 1999. ISBN 84-259-1074-9, pp. 175,176. From Wikimedia Commons ((es)).

We are presently designing a brochure to cover more of these fascinating architectural decorations and the Hotel’s 2002 renovation. Please check back for updates.

A Recollection of Chef Mathieu

Found in loose papers copied from The Glory Days of the Davenport Hotel (Published by Spokane Corral of the Westerners, 1991) by John Luppert. Luppert was hired as a hotel musician during a musician’s strike that affected the Hotel during the Great Depression. He gives several accounts of a managerial style becoming less and less common in our time. The following is his recollection of Chef Mathieu who headed up the kitchen of that establishment for many years.

Chef Mathew [sic] was the autocrat of the kitchen. He was very French, as all great chefs were at that time. He had the hiring and firing of all kitchen help, and indirectly controlled the waiters and waitresses, because if he, for any reason, took a dislike to any waiter, he would forbid him to come into the kitchen, and being denied the kitchen, he would be unable to place his orders, and he would be forced to quit. The chef was the lord of the kitchen, and held sway over the bakers, salad cooks, fry cooks who worked at the charcoal grills, dishwashers, bus boys, and the casseroller who cleaned the great copper pans, and incidentally washed the [sic] and polished the coins given out by the cashier. Chef Mathew wore a tall white hat when in the kitchen, and while the cooks all wore white hats, no one wore one as tall as the chef’s. The sous chef was a stumpy little German named Johnny Steiner. He habitually carried a glass of beer around with him as he made his rounds in the kitchen.  Between swigs, he kept a napkin over his beer glass, apparently thinking no one would know what he had. My mother was a great cook and would occasionally swap recipes with Chef Mathew. I remember she traded him her recipe for Orange Bread for his recipe for Augraten potatoes. The chef was very courtly in his manners when not in his kitchen, and when I would meet him on the street, he would always say, after a brief conversation, “And how is your charming mother?”. And after a thoughtful pause, “She is a very good cook, for a woman, of course!”

Exterior Symbolism

Exterior of the Davenport Hotel

In 1914, the Davenport Hotel published an in-house  guidebook and historical walking tour entitled Davenport Hotel, Spokane, U.S.A.: “The Pride of an Empire”: One of America’s Exceptional Hotels. (Its shorter working title is The Pride of an Empire.)  The small book, long considered the primary word on the architecture and decor of the building, was written in such a way as to educate the public about the historic influences brought to bear upon the various styles chosen for the public rooms.

In many ways, it succeeded admirably, although in places it stretched into flights of fancy sometimes way beyond a proper application to the subject. Nevertheless, the book remains a faithful record of the intent of the builders and investors of this hotel to promote the Northwest Inland Empire:

…permeating every plan and evident in every feature are definite purposes and controlling ideals, namely a desire and intention to establish new standards of hotel excellence—to reflect fittingly all that is best in the spirit of the west—to represent worthily the boundless wealth and immeasurable prosperity of the Inland Empire—to create a monument to the warm hearted, generous minded manhood that has made that prosperity possible—in short to make the house in structure, ornamentation, furnishings and service an unique expression of the characteristic hospitality of the Northwest. [p. 7]

Clearly, the hotel’s exterior design mingles a resemblance to the Florentine palaces of a previous financial empire with the best of Chicago architecture befitting such progressive times.

If we now take into consideration the wonderful Northwest, in which this Hotel is located, with its marvelous crops and fabulous mines; if we keep in mind the type of progressive citizens that go to make up its life, coming as they do from all corners of the globe; if we contemplate the splendid courage and commendable public spirit of those who erected this magnificent hostelry:–and if we, then, hark back to the Florence of the past with its wealthy Burghers, and compare it with the Spokane of the present and its successful pioneers,–we are certain to feel how fitting it is that the exterior of this Hotel should have been patterned after the Florentine style. [p. 17]

The architectural symbolism  of helmets, serpents, rams’ heads is informed by an understanding of Classical metaphor. Few good closeups of the hotel’s exterior details exist, and it is exceedingly difficult to capture them all in a single shot. The picture above, shows a longshot of the building exterior. Just above the second floor cornices the helmets atop the rams’ heads can be seen (though these latter are perhaps best viewed from the side). For a fuller description, we turn again to  The Pride of an Empire.

Standing in bold relief will be seen the closed helmet, suggestive of protection, and the ram’s head, which in the classical symbolism is the emblem of push and determination. Overtopping these heads, on the keystones breaking the lines of the cornice, are duplicated Hermes’ staff and entwined serpents, bringing to mind the mythological tale of how Hermes or Mercury, the patron of commerce, travel and what-not, coming one time upon two serpents apparently bent upon annihilating each other, threw between them his staff. Whereupon, we are told, they entwined about it, and themselves, and continued ever after to exist in friendly rivalry.

Does not this detail in particular symbolize all that is best in honorable, decent competition? Is it not markedly suggestive of that energetic, yet friendly quest of trade which has characterized the industrial history of the Northwest and made possible that prosperity and advancement which has become the wonder of the world? [p. 18]

The Hall of the Doges

One of the most beloved historic rooms in the Davenport (and indeed Spokane), the Hall of the Doges, was built directly above the famous Davenport’s Restaurant a decade before the adjoining hotel opened in 1914. Architect Kirtland Cutter was asked by Louis Davenport to “spare no expense” in  designing a ballroom and reception hall that would “eclipse in luxury and splendor anything of its kind west of the Mississippi.” Such was the prosperity of the great “Inland Empire” that flowed into its capital city, Spokane. A sense of its gorgeous and festive atmosphere can be derived from the costume ball photo from 1910.

Detail of a painting by Canaletto with arrow showing design used by Kirtland Cutter

A Costume Ball in the Hall of the Doges Libby photo Eastern Washington State Historical Society L87-1.2381-10

Cutter’s original inspiration for this lavish chamber derived from the famous Palace of the Doges in Venice, most notably in the quatrefoilwindows and Gothic arches on the second stories of each structure.  One is tempted to wonder if a Venetian theme was selected because Venice in its days of glory was the heart of a vast mercantile empire, analogous in a way to Spokane in 1904, which was at the flourishing crossroads of the vast Inland Empire.

By 2000 the former glory of the Hall of the Doges was drastically eroded. The arches had been closed and covered with red flocked wallpaper; the room felt small and claustrophobic. The arms of the chandeliers had been stripped, the ceiling covered with grime, the oval painting severely abraded, and there was a gaping hole in one corner.

The Hall of the Doges in 2000