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Then and Now: Desert Caravan Inn

The automobile changed American traveling culture. Stately hotel blocks became less important than the motor inn, motel, or what The Spokesman-Review called “highway hotels.”

The Dessert family, in the hotel business since 1885, built the 47-unit motel Desert Caravan Inn on the Sunset Highway in 1951.

The family’s hotel business went back to Spokane’s founding. Victor Dessert, from Alsace-Lorraine, arrived in Spokane in the early 1880s as a blacksmith for the Northern Pacific Railroad.

He opened one of Spokane’s earliest hotels, Russ House, in 1885. Lodging was 25 cents and each meal was 25 cents, advertised as the “Best $1.00 A Day Hotel In The City.” He built the 15-room Pacific Hotel nearby at First Avenue and Post Street.

The 1889 fire destroyed both structures, but the Desserts rebuilt the Pacific Hotel, expanding it to three stories and many more rooms.

In 1890, Dessert married Louise Marschante, also from Alsace-Lorraine. The two worked tirelessly side by side in the business.

The couple eventually had several hotels and built a few other downtown buildings.

Victor Sr. died in 1907. Louise carried on with her brother, Fritz Marschante, and teenage son, Victor Dessert Jr.

The young Dessert would quickly grow into the role, managing a half-dozen properties, including a hotel in Coeur d’Alene and in Ritzville.

In the 1930s, the Pacific Hotel was renamed the Desert Hotel, a wordplay on the owners’ last name. It had a popular bar, The Oasis, decorated in Egyptian hieroglyphics and faux pharaonic statuary and columns, where Louise usually oversaw operations.

Victor Jr. died in 1941 at age 50.

His daughters, Marilu and Joanne, with her husband Al Williams, built the Caravan Inn.

In 1962, the family tore down the Desert Hotel at First Avenue and Post Street and built the Sahara Motor Inn, an upscale property with a popular night club, the Moulin Rouge. Today, it is the site of the Davenport Hotel Tower.

Most of the Dessert properties were sold off in 1978, which Al Williams called “the end of an era.” The Caravan Inn has changed hands and been remodeled several times over the years.


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