One hundred years ago this month, the Davenport Democrat and Leader newspaper wrote about the formal opening of the Hotel Davenport at 4th and Main streets, proclaiming the building a “monument to the enterprise, growth and development” of the city.
The same might be said today.
In the mid-1980s, when the brick-over-steel structure’s use as a hotel had diminished and the building was a bit down at its heels, it was rehabbed by a Des Plaines, Ill.-developer who undertook a $5.5 million project to turn it into apartments called the Davenport.
While the hotel’s original construction ushered the city “into the era of tall buildings,” according to former city historic planner Marlys Svendsen, the rehab project completed in 1987 stands as the first of the recent downtown living projects.
Although other projects did not follow immediately, the Hotel Davenport building stands at the head of what has become an impressive list, including the rehabilitation of the former Mississippi Hotel and the conversion to apartments of the Crescent Macaroni building, the former Waterloo Mills and the Roederer Transfer building.
City officials and planners say that enticing people to live downtown is critical to the health of the core city now that the area is no longer a major retail center.
Another significant factor about the Davenport is that the rehab project occurred at a time when construction of any kind in the Quad-Cities was at a low point. Many of the big manufacturing plants that had buoyed the area’s economy for so long were closing, and there was a general economic downturn.
Thom Hart, who was Davenport’s mayor then, remembers the 1980s as a “challenging” decade and recalls with a chuckle that some of the early marketing for the apartments touted their location as “across from the library and close to St. Anthony’s.”
“That’s not much to market,” he says. “Thank goodness it (the downtown) is much more vibrant now.”
“Vibrant” might have been a word to use when the hotel opened 100 years ago, too, but a different kind of vocabulary was in vogue then.
The Democrat and Leader writer described the hotel as “magnificent” and “palatial,” and dubbed its opening an “auspicious” event.
The hotel quickly became “the dominate accommodation in the city, putting an end to the long-held tradition of the Kimball House (now the parking lot for Tri-City Electric Co.) and others of its era,” Svendsen wrote. “Other modern hotels soon followed the Davenport, including the Blackhawk in 1915 and the Mississippi in 1931.”
The Davenport was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 on the basis of two criteria: its association with the history of Davenport commerce, specifically its role in spurring economic growth, and because it is an example of the work done by the architectural firm of Temple and Burrows.
Temple and Burrows was a respected firm that also designed the Blackhawk Hotel, the former Union Trust and Savings Bank (now the Union Arcade Building) and the Federal Building at 4th and Brady streets.
When it opened, the hotel had a ballroom on the sixth floor, a bar room, a spacious lobby, a dining room overlooking Harrison Street that could seat 200 to 400, depending on how it was set up, and a kitchen.
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The guest rooms offered “steam heat, hot and cold water, telephones and electric lights, heavy brass bedsteads with box springs and hair mattresses, velvet carpets and fancy window draperies, quartered oak and Flemish oak furniture, mahogany combination tables and writing desks and beveled mirrors.”
Hart, a Davenport native, remembers that the Davenport was still “quite a significant hotel” in the 1960s, serving travelers disembarking from a Rock Island Lines train station that stood on the block north of the hotel, which is now a parking lot.
“It was the equivalent of an airport hotel,” he says.
IF YOU GO
What: To celebrate the 100th birthday of the Davenport, the owners are sponsoring a public open house, with complimentary sandwiches and drinks and a tour of five of the building’s apartments, including the loft of Bonnie and Lyle Leonard, featured on this page.
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16
Where: The Davenport, 324 N. Main St.