February 9, 1996 in City

Mural, Mural On The Wall Restorer Discovers Hidden Paintings On Basement Wall Of The Davenport Hotel

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Don Rodgers created extra work for himself a few months ago, sitting in the seldom-used basement of the dusty Davenport Hotel.

Hired to do restoration work at the downtown landmark, Rodgers was eating lunch when he noticed thin dark lines barely visible on a section of white wall.

“I got up there and said, ‘Yes, there really is something painted behind there,”’ Rodgers said.

He’d found a 10-foot-by-3-foot mural, not noticed by the hotel’s current owners or dozens of workers before.

In 20 more minutes, the Spokane artist found nine other murals above similar arches around the room, used as a barber shop during the downtown hotel’s heyday.

Rodgers’ discovery led to 75 hours of work restoring one of the murals, which was recently unveiled by the hotel owners.

After carefully washing off three coats of white paint, Rodgers could identify outlines of the original work - a decorative, unsigned mural featuring a head flanked on two sides by griffins, mythical figures with eagle heads and lion bodies.

He spent about 20 more hours repainting the figures in their original colors.

The murals were painted about 1914, when the hotel opened, to grace a room used as a meeting place for the city’s men of society. They were treated to hot face-towels, manicures, cigars and boot shines while the barbers did their work.

Last week, when Davenport owners showcased the finished product, the room was a dusty, dark chamber, nowhere near its glory days.

“It was a total surprise to us,” said Ellen Robey, who was there with other members of the Friends of the Davenport, a group trying to reopen the hotel.

For most on hand, including Rodgers, the mural is a down payment by hotel owner Wai Choi Ng and his brother Jeffrey Ng, the Davenport’s director.

“They are good people,” Rodgers said. “They wouldn’t be spending money on this unless they were serious about bringing back the hotel to what it was.”

The Ngs and Rodgers guess the murals were painted over in the 1970s as previous owners patched holes in the walls or remodeled the room.

In the future, the Ngs plan to renovate the barber shop into a chic entertainment lounge. By then, Jeffrey Ng plans for Rodgers to restore the other murals.

But recent concerns over an underground oil spill make that prospect uncertain, Jeffrey Ng explained.

“The whole project and finishing the murals is anchored on solving the problem of the oil spill,” he said during a tour of the basement this week.

The spill involves thousands of gallons of fuel oil that leaked underground north of the hotel from a steam utility plant once operated by the Washington Water Power Co.

Found in 1994, the spill has derailed efforts to finance the hotel’s reopening, the Ngs say.

In the meantime, Rodgers waits to complete the remaining murals.

Five years ago, he spent some of his own money restoring several bison skulls decorating the Monroe Street Bridge. Last year, he was hired to sculpt a life-size Elvis Presley bust for the company that manages Graceland in Memphis.

Rodgers was paid just $800 for his work on the Davenport mural. He predicts it would cost up to $20,000 to finish the rest.

Jeffrey Ng said he has no immediate plans to open the basement to art lovers.

“It’s a question of safety,” he said. “Once we get all the murals done and have the basement finished, then people can enjoy them.”

He makes no promises, either: “I think I’ll do one more (mural). That way, I don’t want anyone coming along later failing to see what’s there.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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