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New Owners Fit Old Hotel To A Tea

Thu., March 2, 1995

Louis Davenport was a patriotic American, but also quite a short one.

So short, legend has it, that before he could launch a counter-strike against Hitler’s evil Axis powers some 50-odd years ago, Louis had a bellboy fetch him a ladder.

Visitors to Room 730 of Spokane’s landmark Davenport Hotel still can see the marks where Louis scratched out the offending banners and flags of Germany, Italy and Japan.

This is the rarely viewed Circus Room, one of many architectural jewels packed inside this treasure chest of a hotel.

Davenport, who opened the doors in 1914, had the room custom-made for his only son, Lewis. Parading along on the walls of the spacious room is a menagerie of three-dimensional, brightly colored characters.

There are lions, tigers, elephants, circus wagons, clowns, musicians and joyous citizens eager for a ringside seat. The people depicted in the highly detailed artwork are said to be caricatures of Louis’ pals.

The Circus Room is a cheery place, but once World War II broke out the lines were drawn. Imagine Louis, teetering from a ladder, as he angrily obliterated the enemies that appeared above a circus wagon loaded with a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros.

I noticed the scratches during an informal tour through the hotel the other day. I pointed them out to Jeffrey Ng, the Davenport’s director, who had never seen them before.

He called me at home later to say he had consulted local historians and had the answer to the mystery: “It was Louis himself.”

Any cynics who believe the Davenport still is a lost cause should hear the love and excitement in this man’s voice as he talks about this grand old hotel.

“Many people here don’t realize what they’ve got,” he says during our tour. “It is treasure.”

Unfortunately, that message has been lost in a public relations disaster.

The hotel’s eternal wrangling with Washington Water Power over an oil spill has overshadowed the money and energy the Hong Kong-based corporation continues to pour into renovating the Davenport.

Some suspect Ronald Wai-Choi Ng, the chairman of the Davenport’s ownership group, may be using the spill as a way out of what surely must be a money pit.

Jeffrey Ng says nothing could be further from reality.

“I’m not letting the oil bother me,” he says. “I just want to get the hotel opened up for the public.”

The 5,000-strong Friends of the Davenport organization contends that the Ngs share the same vision as old Louis himself.

A bit of that vision will be shared Friday evening with the debut of the New Isabella Tea Room. There will be dancing in the Grand Lobby, where people will savor some of the hotel’s former majesty.

Although much remains to be done, the Ngs’ restoration efforts are impressive. They are slowly but surely bringing back Louis Davenport’s dream of a worldclass luxury hotel.

The task is formidable. For years the Davenport suffered under the crass foolishness of short-sighted former owners. It was as if the Beverly Hillbillies were given a palace to trash.

Precious oak woodwork was covered with tacky wall paper. Antique fixtures were looted or sold.

The original marquee was cut up and sold for scrap metal. Gorgeous painted ceilings and intricate ornamentation were allowed to deteriorate.

Red shag carpet was actually nailed into the precious pink marble floors of the Grand Lobby.

“It hurts me,” says Ng, pointing to the holes left in the marble when the carpeting was removed. “Why would anyone do such a thing?”

How ironic and somewhat shameful that it would take people from another country and culture to come to Spokane and remind us what grace, beauty and potential still exists at the Davenport Hotel.

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