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'History repeats itself': Davenport Hotel survives two pandemics

Built in 1914, the Historic Davenport has survived the 1918 influenza pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic.

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — The hospitality industry has been crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic, with some hotel staff saying they don't understand how they were able to survive this year. Downtown Spokane's Historic Davenport leaders said the past year has been hard, but this is not the first pandemic they've faced. 

The Davenport Hotel opened in 1914, just four years before the 1918 influenza pandemic. Director of Marketing Matt Jensen said the building has seen a lot.

"It's seen a pandemic, it's already survived one," Jensen said. "So we're just happy to be able to survive [COVID-19]." 

Jensen said hospitals hit capacity so the hotel converted their seventh floor to a quarantine wing for those infected and regularly provided meals for nurses.

A centennial later, the hotel had to shut down once again. One day they were booked solid, but they lost everything the next, he added.

"It's been devastating," he said. "The cancellation has been a big part, especially in that first six months of the pandemic. We didn't know how long it was going to go on." 

Jensen said they furloughed around 1,200 staff members, many of them being restaurant workers and banquet staff. Once known for their food, conventions and spa, the COVID-19 pandemic caused financial turmoil within the five hotel properties.  

"It's been a long year, and our hotels have been affected, probably much more than other hotels," he said. "Just because we do a lot of events and conventions and that was eliminated a year ago."

The other big piece of their loss is due to corporate travel, he added. Despite losing all of their events and traveling guests, the Davenport survived – and they are finally starting to bring back employees. 

Now there is hope with Governor Jay Inslee's announcement that all Washington counties can move to Phase 3 on March 22. After only being allowed 25% capacity, many hotels are thrilled that they can bump up to 50% capacity. 

RELATED: All Washington counties moving to Phase 3 of reopening on March 22

Credit: Davenport Hotel
Spanish flu nurses at the Davenport in 1918

Phase 3 shows this historic hotel that better days are coming, just like when they were allowed to reopen after the Spanish flu pandemic.

A few hundred have returned to work, he said. With the announcement that Washington state is moving to Phase 3, he is thrilled to welcome the community back in. 

"When you're limited to just 25% of your normal volume, that makes it more difficult," he said. "Having a 50% is certainly going to help, we want 100%, but 50% is good for right now." 

The hotel is slowly adding in more aspects they previously had to close down.

"The spa is back," he added. "We're kind of taking baby steps with [restaurants], as things reopen."

What has kept the local hotel chain's spirits high is the knowledge that this pandemic will pass. 

"The Spanish Flu, it really had three waves to it. COVID has kind had three waves to it," he said, comparing the two pandemics. "It took about the same amount of time, a year and a half, as well."

Some aspects from early pandemic days will be kept for right now, such as the extensive cleaning, not providing valet parking and drop off room service. Jensen said they are planning their order of what to bring back. 

One of the first aspects they are bringing back is breakfast in the Safari Room but people will have to wait for happy hour and the famous flatbread for a little while longer  

"We've got all that great history to rely on," he said. "History repeats itself."