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

Landmark Oregon coast hotel that’s full of books and shuns Wi-Fi has been sold

The reading room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel, shown in 2012.  (Thomas Boyd)
By Lori Tobias The Oregonian

Forty years after two Portland women took a gamble on a tumble-down oceanfront hotel, the landmark Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport has a new owner.

Goody Cable and Sally Ford, who opened the doors of the literary-themed hotel in March 1987, signed the final papers Friday, turning over the keys to John Lee, managing director of the Portland-based VIP Hospitality Group. The sale price was not disclosed.

“I no longer own a hotel,” Ford said minutes after the closing. “It makes me sad, but life goes on. One chapter ends and another begins. It has truly been a labor of love for Goody and me.”

The Sylvia Beach Hotel is a coastal destination that attracts book fans and especially writers, who draw inspiration from its literary motifs and its voluminous library — and who appreciate the focus enforced by the hotel’s stubborn lack of TVs or internet access.

The hotel was built in 1913 as the New Cliff Hotel and later became the Gilmore Hotel. When Cable and Ford, friends since they were toddlers, bought it in 1984, it was a run-down, low-rent residential hotel, still with tenants occupying most of the rooms. The roof leaked, the windows were broken and there was no foundation.

Still, says Ford, “when I first saw that dilapidated old place, I just loved it. It had three different colors of paint on it and that old Hotel Gilmore sign on the side of it. I had no idea what we were in for, but most of it was fun, just really fun.”

A heavy-duty renovation included jacking up the hotel to build a foundation, gutting the rooms down to the studs and adding four fireplaces, 21 bathrooms, a kitchen and dining room.

It reopened as the Sylvia Beach Hotel three years later. Cable and Ford’s friends decorated the 21 rooms in themes around literary giants like Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie and Tennessee Williams.

Ford’s brother, Ken Peyton, ran the place from a card table because there was no front desk. There were no TVs and only two pay phones. The first guest was “little guy in a white sailor’s uniform,” accompanied by a local resident, carrying no luggage, Ford told The Oregonian during the hotel’s 25th anniversary. “The rate included breakfast, but they didn’t spend the night.”

Despite the lack of customary amenities, the hotel was soon showing up on the feature pages of publications like People magazine, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Ken Kesey, one of Oregon’s best-known authors, dubbed it “the only flophouse on the coast with a view and a waiting list.”

The hotel restaurant, Tables of Content, grew its own following, known not only for the dinners served family-style but for Cable’s favorite dining pastime, the parlor game “two truths and a lie,” in which diners shared secrets about themselves with fellow guests who had to guess which of the three was fiction.

And now, the gabled hotel perched on the headlands enters a new era. Peyton managed the hotel until his death in 2009. Cable suffered a debilitating stroke four years ago.

She takes comfort in the idea that the famed hotel — “our baby” — is part of her legacy, but “I’m going to miss it terribly,” she said. “I’m going to really miss a lot of the guests and the dinners.”

The VIP group recognizes the 111-year-old hotel’s unique literary concept and is trying to figure out how to preserve it while at the same time keeping up with the changes in the broader hospitality industry, Lee said.

“Sally and Goody have built a successful business and brand with a worldwide following for four decades,” Lee said. “We are honored to take the torch and will be focusing on learning the ways that make Sylvia Beach so unique. There’s a lot to learn and digest, and we will be immersing ourselves into the business over the next several months to figure out the next steps, including necessary capital investments to renovate all areas of the hotel.”