In downtown Mount Vernon, at the southeast corner of South First and Myrtle streets, you’ll find a five-story brick building with an illustrious history.
Known today as the President Apartments, the building at 310 Myrtle Street was once the President Hotel, providing the most luxurious lodgings of its era for Skagit Valley visitors. As it was back then, it is the tallest building in downtown Mount Vernon, and is also included on the National Register of Historic Places.
From the Ashes
The President Hotel began its life after the fiery demise of another well-regarded hotel on the same site. In 1909, the Hotel Windsor was constructed as a three-story brick building with 50 guest rooms, a lobby, office, dining room, and bar. One of six downtown hotels at its opening, it was considered one of the best hotels north of Seattle. In 1922, two additional stories, providing another 50 guest rooms, were added, and the Windsor continued to be a successful business.
But on the morning of March 23, 1926, with 117 guests in the hotel, a fire began in the basement of the elevator shaft. The fire spread, and fire departments from five additional communities – and as far away as Bellingham – were called in to help. The hotel was successfully evacuated, and around four hours after it started, the fire was out. But the damage was done. The hotel’s roof and several walls had collapsed, and the interior was completely destroyed by both fire and water damage.
But within a week of the fire, plans were made to construct a new five-story hotel to replace the Windsor as soon as possible. Contractors Worth Alexander and Thomas D. MacNeil constructed the new building, designed by Bellingham architect Thornton F. Doan. Having seen the fire while visiting Mount Vernon, Doan –who also designed the Skagit County Courthouse – offered to work for free. The new design incorporated portions of the old hotel’s remaining north and west walls, and after nine months of construction at a cost of $200,000 ($2.89 million today), the building was complete.
On January 8, 1927, the newly-named President Hotel reopened with a dinner and dance attended by about 175 people. The Mount Vernon Daily Herald described the new hotel’s interior as Italian and Spanish in design, a Mediterranean Revival style that was popular at the time. The hotel lobby featured overstuffed davenport sofas and luxurious rugs, while the dining room had frescoed ceiling beams and ornamented columns. First floor retail shops included a coffee shop, beauty parlor, barbershop, and cigar stand. The building’s exterior was clad in cream-painted brick, featuring subtle elements of colonial revival architecture, popular in the late 19th and early 20th Century.
Jo Wolfe, director of the Skagit County Historical Museum, says old photos of the hotel interior show just how upscale it was for its time. “It surprised me how ornate and elegant it was for the area,” she says. “It was a posh place.”
The building was also home to the Mount Vernon National Bank, which merged with Skagit National Bank prior to the 1929 stock market crash and became Skagit National Bank of Mount Vernon. The bank space was undamaged in the 1926 fire, thanks to a heavy firewall and concrete ceiling. It re-opened soon after the fire, continuing as a bank through 1948. The President Hotel was considered the best hotel in Mount Vernon through the 1920s and 30s, but by 1948, the number of fine hotels was diminishing downtown.
Sometime during the 1950s, the hotel’s rooms were converted to apartments. The bank space became a jewelry store. From then on, it continued as an apartment building with first floor retail space, changing ownership several times. In 1995, the Housing Authority of Skagit County became the owner, and continues in that role to this day.
The President’s Hotel Today
Today, the building has nearly 40 apartments for low and medium-income residents, with retail space on the first floor. According to their website, the HASC has plans to further renovate the building in the future.
Like any historical structure, Wolfe says preserving the President Hotel building is important because it allows another piece of the area’s history to be told for future generations. “That’s how we remember the past,” she says. “By continuing to tell the stories of our buildings and places, and the events that have happened here in Skagit County.”
So, the next time you’re in downtown Mount Vernon, take a moment to ponder the posh past of one of the city’s oldest buildings.