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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Then and Now: Downtowner Motel

Gerald O. “Jerry” Larson was raised in North Dakota and moved to the Northwest in 1938. He was a door-to-door salesman, a construction worker and served in the Army Air Corps Reserve during World War II. He arrived in Spokane in 1951 and continued in the construction industry.

In 1956, Larson formed Spokane Motels, Inc. with Claude C. Murray and hardware store owner Wendell Hoesly to build two motels, which still stand today.

The motel, short for motor hotel, evolved from America’s love affair with automobile travel. Early 20th-century travelers often camped or rented tiny cabins. After World War II, motels proliferated and offered modern comforts at discounted rates for travelers who could park nearby. Motels clustered along highways, often on the outskirts of town where land was cheap.

Larson was contractor on Spokane Motels’ first project, the Bel Air Motel at 1303 E. Sprague, a two-story, 12-unit block in modern brick. It was later expanded to 18 units. Murray said the location was good because Carroll’s Motel was right across the street. Carroll’s is now a teen center run by Union Gospel Mission.

Larson also built the second project, a 38-unit, three-story motel at 2nd Avenue and Washington Street called the Downtowner. The first floor was used for parking with rooms above. A dozen more units were added a few years later for a total of 50 rooms.

The Downtowner surrounds an older building on the corner that has held various taverns, the Gold and Blue Grill, Aristocrat Food Manufacturing, a church called Bible Truth Hall and other businesses. For almost 30 years, the building has been known as The Big Dipper, a bar and live music venue.

The two motels, the extent of the partnership, were sold around 1962. Murray moved to Phoenix, Arizona and had continued success in real estate. He died in 2009. After the motels, Hoesly worked for Spokane Dry Goods until his death in 1969.

Larson built and operated North Bowl bowling center. In 1969, his company was asked to make a bid to demolish the aging Patsy Clark mansion. Instead, he bought the historic home and lived there for several years, preserving it for future generations. Larson ran for city council twice, never successfully. Larson died in 1992.