#260 - Columbia Gorge Hotel
Hood River, Oregon
In mid July, Don and I spent a night at this duck-loving, magical place.
Historic Hotel & Highway
On a Sunday afternoon, we left Portland and traveled on I-84, following the path of the first scenic highway built in the U.S.
In less than an hour we pulled up to this 100-year-old, Mission style hotel. It was built just after the Historic Columbia River Highway was completed.
The hotel looked familiar!
I'd never visited before, but I had a picture in my head. It came from page 231 of this book.
1950 & 2021
I recognized the roofline and tower, along with the shutters and fire escape.
The hotel was about 30 years old, when the cookbook came out in 1950.
I snapped a photo to compare. Little had changed with the building, in 71 years. However, the gardens seemed more lush. My view of the hotel and the stone bridge was a little obscured by growth.
We arrived at 3 pm and the parking lot was quiet.
We headed towards the entrance and I wondered where all the tourists were, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Towers and Flowers
I eyed the tower, wondering about its use. I had heard that years ago, the hotel staff used the tower to keep an eye on the river. They could spot steamships bringing guests, then gage their time for prepping rooms.
I couldn't help but notice the gorgeous flower baskets all around the entrance. What a welcome greeting at the door.
The lobby was as quiet as the parking lot.
The space felt more old-homey, than impressive-ritzy. I snapped some quick pics of the slick, painted columns and beams.
Across from the lobby, I spotted the same beams in Valentino Bar. I read later that these "wooden" features were actually created with plaster, by 5 artisans. Odd.
After checking in, I enjoyed a fine elevator adventure, thanks to Chris the operator. I asked Chris to pause a moment, so I could get photos of the curious paneled doors and the golden gate. Then I rolled my bags into the little space.
When I asked to take a photo of the funny handle that triggered the lift, Chris insisted I learn how to drive the thing. He asked for my cell phone and took photos of me, trying to guide us properly. I could see the wall through the gate and attempted to stop us at the "3" painted on the wall. Good enough. I only had to step up a bit to get off. Thanks Chris! That was memorable!
There wasn't room for Don in the elevator. He missed all the fun when he took the stairs.
Here is the sort of eerie stairwell. I wish I'd had time (and nerve) for a tower adventure. If I'd been a little braver, I could have climbed around that gate, to sneak up in the tower.
Don beat me to our room, at the end of the hall. Just look at that outer door, with slats and little brass handle! You don't get those at Best Westerns.
The hotel's most recent renovation was about 10 years ago. I'm glad they didn't go overboard and remove all the extra doors.
Cheers for a spacious, corner room with extra windows! It was a nice surprise, since we booked the cheapest.
The windows were also handy for getting some air. Old hotels sometimes smell... like old hotels. Air is good!
We probably should have paid more for a river view room. But our front window gave us a nice view of landscaped gardens and paths.
Our side window gave us a tiny glimpse of the river, through the trees. We could also see mountains and the newer villas, next door.
2 of Everything
The extra space was a treat, since old hotel rooms can often feel cramped.
Sometimes Don and I fight over the one bedside table and lamp. Yay for having our own tables and our own comfy chairs. We even had our own full length mirrors, which could have come in handy... if we'd wanted to admire ourselves at the same time.
Did I Mention the Bed?
I will let the photos do the telling. What a crazy bed!
Don was impressed with the 4 chains attached to the ceiling. "It's earthquake ready!" he announced. For a split second I hoped it was a hanging bed. No. But at least I felt safe knowing the canopy would not land on us in the night.
Doorknobs and Wallpaper
As I said, they did not go overboard when they renovated.
That works for me. I love old wallpaper and glass doorknobs. I love guessing how many layers of paint cover the woodwork. 100 years of stories in this room!
Bed Themed Bathroom
The bathroom had sort of an odd mix of old and new. I was mostly drawn to the framed prints.
It looked like they had taken the crazy-bed theme, right into the bathroom. There were 2 framed prints titled, "Louis XVI Bed".
Wandering in Back
I was eager to get out and wander in the late afternoon.
The back of the hotel was as pretty as the front.
The hotel sits high on a cliff overlooking the Columbia River.
The water was lovely to look at and the kite surfers were entertaining. No photos, but there were tons of them, further down the river.
There were some pretty viewing areas along the stone pathways.
I wouldn't recommend flip-flops, climbing up the rugged stairs.
I would however recommend a hat. It's very windy walking above the river, as you can see from my hairdo.
One of the nicest viewing spots, was found right outside the hotel's bar. Valentino Lounge & Terrace was named for the famous actor who supposedly used the hotel as a hideaway. That must have been when the hotel first opened, since Rudolph died in 1926.
At 3:30 in the afternoon the patio was quiet and shady. Rudy could have had a cocktail here without being noticed.
The flowers, view and fresh air, made the patio very inviting.
We returned at 5 and found a perfect table. Our bartender/server was quite confident that she could whip up a Sazerac, so I went for that.
I think she had more confidence than skills. But then again, it's stupid to order a Sazerac, anywhere besides New Orleans.
Besides, the view was lovely and we were just happy to be served. Traveling in the summer of 2021 has required patience. Hotels and restaurants have had a hard time finding workers.
Off to the Gardens
After a drink, Don and I set off to wander the grounds in the front of the hotel.
The stonework was as intriguing as the trees and plants.
Columbia Gorge Hotel in 1921
There was actually a lot more decorative stone, back when the hotel opened 100 years ago.
The hotel was built by Simon Benson, who was involved with the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway at the time. Benson tore down the Wah-Gwin-Gwin Hotel which had been on the property since 1904. He kept the trails and gardens for the new hotel.
Benson hired stone masons who had come from Italy to work on the construction of the scenic highway.
The walls and bridges on the hotel property, looked like some we'd seen on our scenic drive.
The grounds in front of the hotel were lovely. The perfect setting for an old folks home.
That's what the hotel became for about a quarter century. The isolated resort struggled for years after the depression and had to close its doors in 1952. It became a hotel once again in the late seventies.
I spotted a few fun areas on the grounds. Bocce Ball and Horseshoes!
I wonder if the aged folks enjoyed those activities? No one else seemed to be making use, on the day we wandered.
Don and I seemed to be the only guests exploring.
We didn't even see any animals. I wish I'd spotted a few squirrels or ducks, nibbling at these curious little feeder boxes.
I adore bridges, so I was glad to see a few different kinds.
There were many places to cross over Phelps Mill Creek, which wound around the property.
Wah Gwin Gwin Waterfall
The bridge with the most entertaining view, was the wooden bridge looking down over the Wah Gwin Gwin Waterfall.
The 208-foot fall of water, is also called Lullaby Falls. I wonder how it got that name.
Don and I spent some time wandering through the rose garden.
A warm breeze carried lots of lovely smells.
The best way to celebrate any interesting hotel, is to find a nice porch or outdoor area to enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of coffee.
Before dinner, Don and I grabbed 2 glasses of wine and headed for the gardens. The evening light was pretty, but the benches didn't look very comfy.
The garden was peaceful, except for the sound of nearby I-84. The interstate has replaced much of the old scenic highway, which was surely more quiet in 1921.
By the River
We finally chose 2 Adirondack chairs looking out over the river.
The sun was warm, but the view was perfect. Yay for my tiny tripod and camera timer! Cheers to the Columbia! Roll on!
Simon's Cliff House
I love the name of the hotel's restaurant. Simon Benson would love knowing that he hasn't been forgotten. Mostly, I love the reminder that our hotel was on a cliff.
The main dining room looked pretty huge when I peeked in, hours before dinner. Too formal and spread out.
Dining with a View
There was also a smaller dining room, with a wall of windows. Much more inviting!
A Toast to Past Guests
We arrived for dinner at 7:30 and lucked out with a perfect table beside the window. We made a toast to the hotel's 100th birthday. I'm so glad it's still here, after being forced to close down a couple times in the past. So glad the hotel survived the pandemic as well.
We also toasted to the famous people who have stayed before us. A few presidents from FDR to Hoover... Burt Reynolds and Tom Cruise... and even Shirley Temple as a young girl. I should have ordered a Shirley Temple!
Gabriel and the Book
Our waiter Gabriel took good care of us. I asked him if they still served "Columbia River Salmon A La Gorge". He seemed a little confused by my question.
Then I showed him our old cookbook and the recipe. He was reasonably amused by the aged book and recipe. I'm sad now to realize, the hotel closed 2 years after this book came out.
Don and I enjoyed some local wine with our view.
I ordered duck, at Gabriel's recommendation.
Don had salmon, with a different recipe than the book. My photo is distorted. The veggies were not twice as big as the fish. All was good.
I loved our window. I felt like we were on some kind of a riverboat.
There's something soothing about looking out over moving water.
The people-watching was fun, too. A few more came out at sunset. I recognized a couple from the dining room, strolling by. They had come over to our table earlier, wanting to see our cookbook. (They'd overheard our cookbook converstaion) I love how that magical little cookbook draws people together!
Before long, I felt like I was in Hitchcock's Rear Window. I was Jimmy Stewart, watching out the window, studying suspicious characters and behaviors. I never did figure out what the 2 policeman were up to. Very curious and mysterious.
We finished dinner at 9 and strolled along the pathways a bit.
We slept well in our corner room. The chains did their job, so no crazy falling canopy stories. In the morning we enjoyed complimentary coffee from the lobby and walked the gardens before checking out.
The view of the Columbia River was stunning and walking paths were heavenly. I loved the stonework and how the building looked, sitting between the river and gardens.
My main regret is that we didn't take the time to drive across the river and find a view of the hotel. Next time!
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My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!