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]

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