I’ve been traveling a lot lately and this week my adventures take me to Eastern Washington. In Spokane, I never miss a stop at the Davenport Hotel where I had a small part in working on the restoration some years ago. It always reminds me that the lobby is truly one of our State’s great rooms and one of those places that seems to create events and stories. In fiction its where the cynical detective Sam Spade finally meets the wayward character Flitcraft in the novel The Maltese Falcon. The writer Dashiell Hammett worked in Spokane at the Pinkerton Agency office across the street in the Peyton Building before traveling to Tacoma for treatment of his tuberculosis in 1920. In the fast paced detective masterpiece, the Tacoma runaway Flitcraft tells his story to the hard boiled gumshoe Spade and in so doing forever links the cities of Spokane and Tacoma. The noir shadow of the artist and his characters adds a magical backlight to the grand lobby at the Davenport.
Another important ghost at the Davenport was
the flamboyant architect Kirtland Cutter who designed the hotel, boulevards of robber baron and silver king mansions in Spokane, theatrical exposition pavilions at the Chicago World’s Fair, and a few big landmarks around Tacoma including Thornewood Castle on American Lake. (see Xanadu post 2.15.16). Cutter lived in a dramatic Arts & Crafts apartment of his own design above the Hall of Doges in the Davenport and was a familiar figure in the lobby, restaurant and barber shop. He was known for his custom tailors suits and capes and particularly for his wing banged hair which concealed a secret only a careful observer like Sam Spade could decipher. In fact Cutter was bald at a young age and relied on the confidence of his barber to keep a set of hairpieces of varying lengths hidden away in the elegant tile and mirrored gentlemen’s salon. Every three or four days while getting his morning shave, the barber would discretely change his hair to the next longest wig and every few months, on a morning when Cutter felt particularly dandy, he would get a haircut by “dawning” the shortest wig and starting the cycle over again. Vanity Fair.
Louis Davenport started a restaurant in downtown Spokane just after the disastrous 1889 fire had gutted most of the downtown. By 1903 he had connected with the extravagant Kirtland Cutter who had redesigned his main dining room as the Hall of Doges, inspired by nothing less than the entire Renaissance (and more specifically the ducal palaces of Venice). By the first decade of the new century both Davenport and Cutter were prospering as copper mines boomed, railroads crossed and the inland empire rose. So too did the steel frame Davenport Hotel which was opened in September 1914. Like Tacoma a days journey away, Spokane was on the route of all four of the Pacific Northwest transcontinental railroads and during the rail passenger era the grand hotel blossomed and became established as the city’s centerpiece of culture and society. It was an obvious clue to Flitcraft’s class and business success when Hammett used the lobby for the meeting with Sam Spade in his mystery of greed and murder. But like the Maltese Falcon itself, I’ll always think of it as the stuff that dreams are made of.