DeMuro Award: The Society Hotel

DeMuro Award Profile: The Society Hotel – Portland, Oregon

Located at the junction between Portland’s Skidmore Old Town National Landmark District and its Japantown-Chinatown Historic District, the Society Hotel was constructed in 1881 as the Mariners’ Building, a boarding house for sailors on shore leave.

Built in the Italianate style, the Mariners’ Building is one of only 20 cast-iron-front buildings in Portland. Originally just three stories tall, it was long-ago lifted to allow construction of the current ground floor. This explains the unique window configuration on the building’s second story: the large center window once served as an entrance!

When the sailor-focused boarding house experienced a downturn in business, the Mariners’ Building was leased to the Portland Hospital. (A patient register unearthed a few years ago includes signatures of visitors with names familiar to many Portlanders: William Ladd, Asa Lovejoy and Dr. James Hawthorne.)

In the early 1900s, the building began a decades-long stint as the California Hotel – a lodging spot for Japanese immigrants. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the hotel’s Japanese-American owners were sent to government internment camps. Their building was seized and sold to a Chinese-American family who converted it into a social hall. The Chinese American Citizens Alliance (C.A.C.A) held meetings and social events there for decades.

Several years ago, an ambitious group of friends joined forces with plans to open a new hotel in a down-on-its-luck part of town. When they took ownership of Mariner’s Building in 2013, it was in rough shape. Upper floors, unused for over 70 years, were packed with tiny rooms and communal baths. This quirky, old-fashioned layout might have concerned most entrepreneurs, the Society Hotel team decided to use the unique floorplan to their advantage.

Most rooms were refurbished to original size, creating small-but-elegant European-style accommodations with shared bathrooms. Twelve larger suites with en-suite baths were added, along with a hostel-style bunk room. This allowed the hotel to offer varied price points to guests.

Seismic upgrades were accomplished using poured board-formed cement, leaving attractive wood-grained imprints on the building’s walls. New window inserts, and a custom-designed HVAC system, supported LEED certification.

Almost all of the structure’s historic building materials were restored, from windows, to wainscoting, to banisters. Anything not restored was repurposed into tables and other décor elements.

The lobby now houses an inviting cafe’ and lounge space, while a new elevator provides access to a rooftop deck with breathtaking views of the city.

The Society Hotel project has brought many benefits Old Town including the creation of 21 new jobs, an influx of shoppers and visitors, and stimulation of nearby development. None of these things would have been likely had the Society Hotel team not:

  • made a commitment to breathing new life into a neglected structure.
  • respected the history and craftsmanship of their historic property.
  • embraced a quirky floor plan and used it as a competitive advantage.
  • taken a creative approach to financing .
  • deliberately chosen to breathe new life into a struggling corner of Portland.

In light of the significant contributions they have made to the Old Town/Japantown-Chinatown area, and the excellent example they have set as conscientious stewards of a historic property, Restore Oregon was delighted to present the owners of the Society Hotel with a 2016 DeMuro Award.

Owner/Developers: Groundswell Development

Architect: Integrate Architecture

Contractor:  Building Blocks LLC

Solar/HVAC Systems:  Imagine Energy

Budget: $4.2M

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