What’s now Ashland Springs Hotel was built with more so it would rise above other towns’ hotels
By George Kramer
Ashland, founded on the creek and the stage road, grew with the arrival of the railroad. As train travel gave way to autos, the Pacific Highway was completed, connecting Ashland to Portland and San Francisco. Before World War I, the old Ashland Hotel, which stood where Wells Fargo is today, was the city’s best lodging. Auto tourists, those who didn’t stay in the public campground in Lithia Park, wanted something better. The Lithia Hotel, now the Ashland Springs Hotel, was the answer.
The Pacific Highway in Oregon was fully paved in 1923 and it followed Main Street right through town, serving as the primary north-south road in Oregon. A Portland architect, John Tourtellotte, of Tourtellotte and Hummel, went to the cities along the new highway promoting auto-focused, first-class hotels.
Tourtellotte and Hummel were skilled architects (they designed the Idaho State Capitol building), but John Tourtellotte was a consummate salesman. Your city, he told local leaders, will never be first rate without a first-rate hotel.
He designed what are known as “subscription hotels.” Like a revival preacher, Tourtellotte caused such a stir that local leaders quickly “subscribed” and formed stock corporations to build his hotels. The Redwood Tower in Grants Pass, the North Bend Hotel and a handful of others, from Astoria to Baker City, are all Tourtellotte-designed subscription hotels.
he firm also designed other fine buildings, including Ashland’s Lincoln Elementary School and the Douglas County Courthouse.
Ashland, Tourtellotte urged, deserved a five-story hotel and the locals reached for their checkbooks. But Ashland, perhaps noting that both Grants Pass and North Bend (North Bend!) had gone for five-story hotels, were having none of that low-rise nonsense. This was Ashland, the gateway to Oregon on the Pacific Highway! Ashland should have a nine-story hotel, the tallest building between San Francisco and Portland.
Tourtellotte was happy to oblige.
Construction on the nine-story tower and the four-story support wing began in 1923 and was completed in 1925. The Ashland Daily Tidings published a special 12-page insert gushing with enthusiasm over the $250,000 project.
California completed its section of the Pacific Highway in 1926, making the route from British Columbia, Canada, to Tijuana, Mexico, the longest paved road in the world. The “Road of Three Nations” passed right in front of the Lithia Hotel, bringing carloads of tourists just as train travel through Ashland plummeted with the shift of the main line to Klamath Falls in 1927. Then, in 1929, the Great Depression hit. Ashland’s new hotel fell on hard times, never really meeting its promised potential.
In 1960 new owners of the “Hotel Lithia” decided to rebrand and they held a contest to find a new name. More than 1,000 people responded. The Mail Tribune said, “about 65 percent of the names were on a Shakespearean theme.” Three entrants, including Bill Patton of the Shakespeare festival, suggested “Mark Antony” and each received a $100 prize. Patton donated his award to the Festival’s building fund. In 1969 the huge roof-top sign “HOTEL” was removed, with a helicopter, that almost crashed during the process, dropping the massive “H” onto the roof.
In 1977 Karsten Heinrich-Jurgen Arriens purchased the Mark Antony Motor Lodge and undertook a major renovation, filling the interior with “international antique furnishings” that included everything from a carved pulpit from the Middle Ages to a massive crystal chandelier. Arriens also bought the old Baptist Church (now the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, but long known as “the old pink church,” after an ill-advised paint job) with the plan to build a conference center.
But despite a glorious burst of activity (Arriens, like the church, was a colorful character), the hotel again fell on hard times. It went through a series of owners and various financial troubles. There was even talk of conversion into Housing and Urban Development housing, or Southern Oregon University dormitories, until finally, after a court-ordered tax auction in 1998, the hotel was purchased by Doug and Becky Neuman.
The Neumans were able to do what no prior owner of the hotel could: restore it and operate it successfully. The Ashland Springs Hotel has since been a major Ashland landmark in every sense of the word. It’s the only Tourtellotte subscription hotel that is still operating as a hotel.
So the next time you look at the stained glass above the main entry, and see the “L” and “H,” think of the Lithia Hotel, of architect-salesman John Tourtellotte, Ashland’s visionary, if perhaps over-confident, leaders, and their dreams of grandeur that took 70 years to be realized.
Ashland historian George Kramer is founder of Kramer & Company, which provides historical preservation services. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.