Louis Davenport: Man with a Vision
Llewellyn Marks "Louis" Davenport
1868 - 1951
Llewellyn Marks "Louis" Davenport was born at Pawnee City, Nebraska, on July 14, 1868. His parents were John S. and Amelia E. “Minnie” (Taylor) Davenport. Besides Louis, they had another son and daughter. When Louis was about eight years old, the family moved to Red Bluff, California. He spent much of his youth between there and San Francisco.
Louis came to Spokane at the age of twenty in spring 1889. He had been a clerk in San Francisco and came to Spokane to spend the summer in his uncle’s restaurant. However, the Great Fire of August 1889 changed the destinies of many people, including Louis.
Davenport salvaged what he could from the rubble, bought two tents, and opened Davenport's Waffle Foundry. Spokane rebuilt quickly after the big fire. Davenport recognized his opportunity and leased a brick building on the southwest corner of Sprague Avenue and Post Street in July the next year. Soon his establishment was one of the most renowned restaurants in the Northwest. Over the years, many celebrities traveled to Spokane and dined at Davenport's.
On August 30, 1906, Davenport married Verus E. Smith at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City. They began married life in Spokane, living on the upper floor of the restaurant, where Verus gave birth to their only child, Llewellyn (known as Lewis) on June 4, 1907.
In 1906, a group of businessmen in Spokane had a vision to accommodate the vast number of travelers coming to the Spokane area with a large and impressive hotel and asked Davenport to build and oversee it. He agreed and enlisted the aid of local architect Kirtland Cutter to design the hotel adjoining his restaurant. Bolstered by Davenport’s already strong reputation, the Davenport Hotel Company was formed in 1912, and preparation of the site began that year. The hotel tower went up in eight months, using horse carts, steam jacks, and hand tools, and opened on September 1, 1914 at an estimated cost of $2,000,000.
The Davenport became the social and commercial center for the city and the region and was widely considered one of America's grandest hotels. Davenport was very particular about his hotel and worked tirelessly at the management of the establishment, which was known for its excellent service and elegance at a reasonable rate. The doors of the hotel were open to everyone. For over a half-century, travelers came from all around the world to spend a night in the hotel. In 1928, Davenport bought out the stockholders and became the single owner. He was a perfectionist, always upgrading and improving. His symbol of hospitality was a large welcoming fire burning in the main floor fireplace 24 hours a day. His objective was for guests to: “Be glad they came, sorry to leave, and eager to return.”
Davenport retired at the age of 77 due to ill health and sold his establishment in 1945. However, he remained active in civic affairs, and he and his wife maintained a residence at the Davenport Hotel in Room 1128 until his death at age 83 on July 28, 1951.
Mourners from around the world sent condolence messages, and hundreds gathered at the Cathedral of St. John to pay homage. It was written at the time that he, more than any other person, put the Pacific Northwest on the map. His estate was valued at half a million dollars, and his will took care of all his family members.
In 1956, a beautiful fountain was installed as a focal point in the Duncan Gardens at Manito Park. The granite Louis M. Davenport Memorial Fountain was donated by his family with an endowment for its upkeep. This was not only a gift to the city but was also a reminder of the over forty years in which Louis Davenport was a member of the Spokane Park Board.