The Governor History continued...
For nearly a century, The Governor Hotel (originally The Seward Hotel) has stood as a monument to one of the most innovative and daring architects ever to build in Oregon. With no formal secondary academic training, William Christmas Knighton (December 25, 1867 – March 14, 1938) designed a luxury hotel billed as a “Hotel of Quiet Elegance” that has become a landmark in Portland’s history and a place as familiar to Portlanders as home. At the turn of the century, only 4 hotels existed in the Portland area that could be considered “first or second class.” In the affluent days after the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905, a substantial increase in tourism and the subsequent need for transient housing sparked a boom in luxury hotel development. In 1909, under the proprietorship of Walter M. Seward and with the unique vision of W.C. Knighton, The Seward Hotel was born.
Mr. Knighton was the first known Oregonian architect to use Viennese-influenced Early Modern and modified Arts and Crafts styles in his design, pioneering the use of fully-glazed terra cotta for the exterior of the building. This intricate and ornate theme can still be seen to a lesser extent in his later architectural designs such as the Trinity Place Apartments (1910) on NW Trinity Place and Burnside St. and the Whitney-Gray Building (1911) at SW 12th and Stark St. which currently is home to another Portland landmark, Jake’s Famous Crawfish. Incorporated throughout The Governor Hotel’s structure one will notice the recurrent use of Mr. Knighton’s bell motif, also believed to be Viennese-influenced in origin. The bell was adopted in homage to Mr. Knighton as The Governor Hotel’s signature logo.
At the top of the Governor building are interesting and seemingly out of place features in contrast to the more subdued structural embellishment. Some believe these designs to be “robots” while others believe them to be more abstract and not intended to be anthropomorphic at all. Whatever the case, these ornamentations certainly provide fodder for entertaining discussion.
Initially, guests could reserve rooms from $1.50 for a sleeping room to $2.00 a night for a private bath and breakfast. Early success led Mr. Seward to spend an additional $20, 000 to incorporate the Seward Grill in the basement of the building. Mr. Seward remained owner of the hotel until 1921. The hotel was purchased by Mr. Culberton and remained under his ownership until 1930 when he sold, probably due to financial difficulties caused by the Depression. The new owners, including Harold Heathman of Heathman Hotels, renovated the building and reopened in 1932 as “Governor Hotel”.
Unfortunately, however, The Governor began to fall into disrepair during World War II when it was used as housing for soldiers and later became home to former Oregon governor Vic Atiyeh’s family business, Atiyeh & Bros. carpet store. The Atiyeh brothers operated the store for 38 years on the lobby level of the Governor Building. One of the last “hand-made” structures in the country, The Governor Building has been in continuous operation since 1909.
Despite appearances, The Governor is actually a new hotel in an historic shell. Most of the interior of the building has been renovated and designed to retain the ambiance of the original Seward Hotel. In 1986 Oregon natives Donald Stastny and Candra Scott teamed up and dedicated themselves to restoring the integrity of the original structure as well as capturing “Oregon’s history and spirit” in the hotel.
The design team began its work by recording and cataloging the historic details throughout the original building. Stastny Architects removed wood trim details and painstakingly recorded the forms and shapes for replication. Historic photographs were collected and studied to recreate original conditions that had been destroyed through previous remodels and misuse. Candra Scott & Associates dug through layers of carpeting to uncover the earliest design. She designed new carpet by enlarging the original pattern and incorporating new colors. Furnishings were recreated from Scott’s research of the international arts-and-crafts movement, and a study of the history of the Northwest.
All of the fixtures in the hotel were either found in other cities or custom designed. Ms. Scott found the metal deco face that is now repeated throughout the hotel in wall sconces in a San Francisco shop. From original design, she devised the mica headdress and ordered replicas. These may be seen outside each guestroom, in the restaurant, and in the rest rooms. An enlarged version of the face was carved into either side of the massive fireplace in the lobby. The chandeliers, too, were found in San Francisco and special features were included in the lobby design so they could be installed.
One of the most remarkable pieces of art in the building is the stained-glass dome, believed to have been designed by Mr. Knighton because of the presence of his characteristic bell. Once part of Seward Hotel, the Atiyeh brothers had the dome removed and stored until the business changed locations in 1973. The dome was repaired and replaced in its original site, currently Jake’s Grill, in 1990. Just below the stained glass dome is the original floor tile of the hotel, a pattern that has been carried throughout the entry and restaurant.
Jake’s Grill is also home to a massive mural, painted in four sections, which plunges the viewer into the history of the Northwest. Melinda Morey, the San Francisco artist who created the contemporary work, traces the journey of the explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who led their first expedition to the Northwest in 1804 – 1806. The first panel depicts American Indians fishing for salmon at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River. The second panel illustrates Lewis trading with the Nez Perce Indians; while the third diagram shows a map of their journey. The final panel is a dramatic, wind-swept image of Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark’s Indian guide, looking across the Oregon Coast to the Pacific Ocean.
With the acquisition of the Princeton Building, formerly an Elk’s Temple, in 1992, The Governor Hotel adopted a rich and mysterious history complete with tales of ghost sightings and strange occurrences. Built by architects Houghtaling and Dougan in 1923 for more than $1 million, The Princeton building is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of Italian Renaissance architecture in the nation. The 6-story, terra cotta structure, complete with beautifully elegant ballrooms and meeting spaces was inspired by the Farnese Palace in Rome and was designated in 1979 as a National Historic Landmark. The Elks lost the building due to the Depression in 1932. Since then it has been through various incarnations including the Oregon Recruitment office and induction quarters for the military during World War II and several athletic clubs.
In 2004 the property was renovated again and the main lobby moved to the Princeton Building or West Wing. A guest elevator was added to the East Wing and the classic Heritage Ballroom reopened.
Twenty-eight of The Governor Hotel’s 100 rooms, including six Penthouse Parlor Suites and six Penthouse Terrace Suites, are now located on the top two floors of the Princeton Building. The Heritage Ballroom, situated on the fourth floor, was uncovered during the 2004 renovation. This ballroom once housed two floors of office space tucked within its 70-year old shell. Now, this immense 7,500 square foot hall with its 40-foot tall Corinthian columns can accommodate up to 900 people for social events. It was restored to its original grandeur complete with the four attributes valued by the Elks each inscribed on the four walls: Brotherly Love, Fidelity, Justice, and Charity.
The Italian Renaissance décor is most notably present on the third floor in the Renaissance Room and the Grand Ballroom. The Renaissance Room, now frequently rented for meeting space, was initially the Elk’s dining room. This long, narrow room features frescoes with caricatures of Elk’s board members painted on the spandrels (the triangular space between adjacent arches) and still retains the original lighting fixtures. The Grand Ballroom, the smaller of the two ballrooms, and once decorated with eight crystal chandeliers, features sloping barrel arches.
On the second floor of the Princeton building the main body of function rooms feature names reflecting their usage by the Elks Club. To the north of the elevators is the Vault Room. Originally the main business office for the Elks, one can still see the two bank teller-style windows and the vault door which is now sealed. To the west lies the Fireside Room. At one time, this room was the only room women were allowed to be unescorted by men. Decorated to reflect details revealed in historic photos, the Fireside Room features angles on the domed ceiling and Corinthian columns along the west and north walls. Now, it can accommodate up to 32 people for sit-down dining. Also on the second floor, one will come across the elegant black walnut-paneled Library capped by a gold-leaf coffered ceiling. Just south of the Library is the Card Room. Decorated in “Chippendale Chinese” with a dragon pendant frieze, the true gem of this room is actually hidden from view. Secured beneath the specially installed carpeting lies a tile floor inlaid with every card in the deck. At the end of the hallway is the Billiard Room. Birds of paradise grace the walls and winged cobras ring the eaves. According to a former director of sales and marketing, the Billiard Room’s white plaster frieze of parrots and tropical plants were probably originally painted in bright colors. The most mysterious room is the Lodge Room east of the Billiard Room. This room retains the back section of its original black-marble bar. Other details in the room include heavy arches, spiral columns, plaster-work birds, and brackets with men’s faces-probably the faces of Elks members-carved into them. The specially commissioned lampshade was designed based on historic photos. Though each room features an amazing array of craftsmanship, the blueprints in the second floor hallway show details that have been lost to time.
The multi-million dollar renovation propelled The Governor Hotel to a AAA Four-Diamond standing and permitted the property to be listed as one of the top 500 hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure magazine. With amenities such as 24-hour room service, a complimentary business kiosk in the lobby, 22,000 square feet of meeting rooms and banquet space, and an on-site Starbucks and McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant Jake’s Grill, The Governor Hotel has re-earned its reputation as a luxury “Hotel of Quiet Elegance.” Centrally located in the heart of downtown Portland’s business, shopping, arts and entertainment districts, and framed by the MAX Light Rail and Portland Streetcar, The Governor Hotel is ideally situated for the city traveler.