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

Sarah Bernhardt

Alphonse Mucha "La Plume" Lithograph 23 1/4 x 19 1/8" 1896

The definitive history of the Davenport Hotel by Tony and Suzanne Bamonte, Spokane’s Legendary Davenport Hotel,[i] contains a long and fascinating list of notable guests that includes American presidents, movie stars, and adventurers. Among them one name stands out as unique. The name is Sarah Bernhardt.

It’s not only that her fame long predates that of other celebrity guests. Harry Truman, Clark Gable, and Charles Lindbergh are all 20th century figures. Born in 1844, this French dramatic actress who first went onstage in 1861 was from a different age altogether. But there’s more. There have been lots of actresses but who else has ever been called “the most famous actress the world has ever known”? None of the many movie “superstars” have been given that distinction. And it is hard to think of any personage with such superlative legendary status ever having set foot in Spokane.

There is more than one puzzle here. How and when did she come to the Davenport and what exactly did she do in Spokane? More meaningfully, what was so great about her in the first place and how did she attain such a reputation?

The latter questions are hard to evaluate now because sound recording and cinema were barely being developed when she took part in them very late in her career and the quality is poor. We only have written accounts of her on stage, black and white photos, and posters.

Alphonse Mucha. "Gismonda" Lithograph 84 x 29 1/8" 1894

But the posters may begin to provide a clue. Some will recognize Sarah’s name from the dazzling depictions of her in the famous Art Nouveau posters of Alphonse Mucha. Nothing like his majestic, seven foot tall design for her role in Gismonda had been seen in Paris before. It was in fact this first poster for her that launched his unmistakable style that came to epitomize Art Nouveau, and, though her career was well established, she had finally found in him an artist capable of representing the presence she sought to evoke.

There was something unique about her stage presence, performing both female and male roles (e.g. Hamlet), she cast a spell with her timing, her clothing and movements, her elocution, her voice. One English man of letters summed it up this way.

“The secret of that astounding utterance baffles the imagination. The words boomed and crashed with a superhuman resonance which shook the spirit of the hearer like a leaf in the wind. The voix d’or has often been raved over; but in Sarah Bernhardt’s voice there was more than gold: there was thunder and lightening; there was Heaven and Hell.”  — Lytton Strache

But it was not only her acting that created the mystique of her celebrity. Hers was a cunning and eccentric flamboyance that would beat Madonna and Lady Gaga hands down. Lavish tales about her own life, traveling with exotic pets (including a crocodile), sleeping in a coffin, making no secret of her endless string of lovers that included the future King Edward VII, all added up to a fantastical public image that would make the most imaginative publicity agent turn green. Yet at the same time she operated professionally in the elite theatrical realm of classical high seriousness, moving her audiences to tears and raptures.

It took a bit of sleuthing to learn when “the divine Sarah” came to Spokane. It turns out that she came twice, the first time in 1891, 23 years before the Davenport opened, to perform her famous role as La Tosca, the play from which Puccini’s opera was derived. She came to the Auditorium theater, then billed as “the world’s largest stage.”

Alphonse Mucha "La Tosca" Lithograph 41 x 15" 1898

A description of her appearance onstage was printed in the Spokane Review the day after the performance.

“In the first act La Tosca [played by Sarah] appeared in a clinging robe of pale sea foam green daintily brocaded, caught up over a petticoat of green and pink satin, with the short waist outlined with a belt of green satin, and sash ends of pink and green. An enormous hat of pink and green with nodding plumes of the same colors, with the white La Tosca cane, which she had once made famous, as she has the Bernhardt gloves.

“The sinuous Sara [sic] . . . has not lost the art of wreathing her clothes about her, until in the second act she stood swathed in regal embroideries of gold on gleaming satin.

“The predominance of green in all of her costumes contrasted beautifully with red gold of her hair.

“She came up the great stage with a girlish airiness that could not be mistaken. The audience knew it was she before it had been given the first faint token of her art, and was pleased at the break in the monotonous French dialogue that had been carried on the for the first ten minutes before the tragedienne could be presented to the Spokane public. Then followed what is really the most charming scene in all of this tangled web of passion, treachery, torture and death.”[ii]

The Spokane audience was not euphoric. As the record goes, There was “a feeling of disappointment that could not be hidden.” Whether it was an off-day for her, her stage manager and the theater staff didn’t communicate well enough, or that Spokanites simply were not culturally literate enough to get what the thing was all about is impossible to ascertain. She was on her private train the following day, next stop Butte, Montana. [iii]

Miss Bernhardt’s second visit to Spokane was in 1918, the last of her nine American tours. A recounting of her time here remains to be uncovered. She was 74 years old, still performing, even though she had lost a leg. That she really did stay at the Davenport Hotel, which opened four years prior, is recorded in the book, The Life of a Chef, written by the hotel’s most famous chef, Edward Mathieu.

“Dear Mr. Mathieu, I want, before leaving the hotel, to express to you all my thanks for your culinary arts so delicate. This is quite rare in this magnificent America. Once more, thanks. Sarah Bernhardt, 1918.”,4576903

Many books have been written by and about Sarah Bernhardt. Brief further reading can be found in this review of a recent biography, “The Divine Sarah” review by Graham Robb in the New York Review of Books
Gottlieb, Robert. Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt. Yale University Press; 2010.

[i]  Bamonte, Tony ; Bamonte. Suzanne Schaeffer. Spokane’s legendary Davenport Hotel. Spokane : Tornado Creek Publications, 2001.

[ii] Spokane Review. “Bernhardt’s Performance,” September 26, 1891, I-5. Quoted in Page, Michael A. “Sarah Bernhardt’s Visit to Spokane.” “Pacific Northwest Forum”. Second Series, Vol. V No. 1, 1992. pp. 128-140.

[iii] Ibid.

The “Isabella” Portrait

Presumed portrait of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, said to be in the collection of the Convent of the Augustinian Nuns, Avila

 The colorful portrait on the end wall of the Isabella Room is an original fixture of what was initially the Davenport Hotel’s Dining Room. In Pride of an Empire, the hotel’s guide book published in 1915, it is described as being by “Nattier,” which is to say the French artist Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766), though it bears little resemblance to his highly refined style and the attribution cannot be verified. A specialist at one of the leading auction houses suggested to the author that the painting was in the style of Largillière, which is also hard to support. The unsigned painting is certainly 18th-century French in style and has no connection with Queen Isabella ofSpain, after whom the room was named, who had died over 200 years earlier. A double portrait said to represent her and her husband Ferdinand is in keeping with the costume style of the Castilian queen’s time period.

 During restoration, when the painting was out of the frame, it could be seen that it had been cut down to some degree (how much cannot be determined) because the painted image was partially wrapped around the stretcher frame. Cutting paintings down to fit picture frames was not an uncommon practice in the past.

Dating the painting is difficult. It has the age cracks one expects from old oil paintings. Auction house specialists and at least one conservator at the Getty Museum felt that, while 18th century in style, it is likely a 19th century production.

The author believes that may be open to debate because it is painted using 18th century techniques. One of these is the practice of applying a unifying colored glaze to a much brighter underpainting, a historically documented technique. In this case, for example, the woman’s dress was originally a shockingly bright pink but was subdued by a harmonizing transparent layer of gray, which had been applied essentially to the entire figure and drapery.

Evidence for this was determined during the cleaning process. The painting had become dark due to surface grime and brown, discolored varnish. The cleaning process revealed that there had been at least two “restorations,” a crude recent one and a somewhat more sophisticated old one. The former involved broadly slapping some thick oil paint over some damaged areas, while the earlier one evidences an old varnish removal and attempts to cover up over-cleaning that took off original paint. A detailed account of the restoration can be found by clicking on the picture at the left.

The fact that the picture had gone through an old restoration suggests an older than late 19th century date. The exact provenance of the picture is unknown but it seems likely that it was touched up before whatever dealer sold it to whoever bought it for the Davenport. It takes more than 50 years for natural resin varnish to darken to the degree that it needs removal. One may deduce that the portrait must be before 1850 at the latest and by that time this was already a long out-of-date style.

The final question is what the picture represents. The woman is unknown. It is suggested here that the aristocratic lady with the basket of flowers is an an 18th Century style allegorical portrait of an individual in the guise of  the goddess Flora, holding an idealized, symbolic garden tool.

(For a detailed report on the restoration of the “Isabella” portrait, visit The Artist’s Gazing Ball.)