The Heathman Hotel
The Glamorous History of the Heathman Hotel
Located on beautiful SW Broadway street in the heart of downtown Portland sits the Heathman Hotel. Opening its doors in 1927, it is a Portland hot spot not only for tourism but for paranormal activity! The Heathman was originally called the New Heathman and is one of the oldest remaining buildings of its time. Along with the Imperial Hotel (built-in 1894), the Governor Hotel (built-in 1909), and the Benson Hotel (opened in 1912), the Heathman is registered on the Historic Hotels of America list. The Heathman is also a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which serves to protect historical buildings. The Heathman currently sits a block away from its original location at the intersection of Park and Salmon Streets. George Heathman, a general contractor, built the Heathman for a cool $1 million. Which is over $13 million in today’s money! He is also responsible for creating some other well known Portland buildings, such as the Roosevelt Hotel and the Park Heathman Hotel. All of which are a part of the National Register of Historic Places. George Heathman built his hotel with wealthy investors in mind. He realized that the Heathman Hotel needed to be different than any other hotel in the area. Heathman wanted to build a hotel that would support the high station and the importance of his investors. Specifically, lumber barons, railroad executives, politicians, and Portland’s upper class. The Heathman is renowned for its comfortable and luxurious rooms, which supported over three-hundred guests and stood eleven stories tall. The building’s architecture, with its dark-hued paneling and arched windows, awed his guests and colleagues. George Heathman kept his promise to his wealthy investors and this boosted his career to whole new heights. At the time, the Hotel was the largest construction project on record. It provided work for over 1,200 handymen, builders, and welders for seven months before its completion. Once the work ended, a formal pre-opening party occurred on December 17, 1927. Many of the workers attended and were celebrated for their hard work. The Governor, Mayor, and local radio stations dedicated speeches in honor of the building. The Oregon Journal wrote that the Heathman is “Portland’s newest and most modern hotel.” They gushed over its construction and the amount of “human ingenuity” it took to create something so grand. The Heathman was a wondrous spectacle for all of Portland and George Heathman could not have been more proud of his creation.
Such a grand building received a lot of attention, which opened up different avenues for business. The KOIN radio station moved into the Heathman in 1927 and featured live performances, bands, and even orchestra events. Eventually, most people in Portland’s nightlife community flocked towards the hotel. The flashy entertainment and good times made the Heathman a fun place to be. Unfortunately for Heathman, the Great Depression loomed on the horizon. KOIN eventually moved on with her sister station. A large coffee shop inside of the Hotel closed and like dominoes everything else with it. Many businesses in the area closed down and it seemed as though the city of Portland would have to say goodbye to the Heathman as well. In the 1980s, the Heathman Hotel became the headquarters for a major political campaign. After the campaign concluded the building became a shell of itself. After some time, the hotel’s entrance became a drug store gift shop combination. Which became recognized as the first 24-hour pharmacy in Portland. Sadly, George Heathman died on July 1, 1930 at the age of 49. His wife and children decided to continue their father’s legacy by continuing to work in the hotel business. They continued to work on the Heathman Hotel up until the early 1960s. After the family moved on, Portland leaders realized that changes needed to be made. Portland’s lively nightlife was quickly fading and if they didn’t step in Portland would lose the business of the major retail stores. In order to protect downtown Portland from going completely under city leaders redeveloped the entire downtown area.
Taking action, city leaders built a performing arts center called the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall next to the hotel. This move secured a spot for the investors and artists who were on their way out of the downtown area. The Heathman began to feel alive again. In 1984 city leaders began a renovation of the building. Workers repainted walls, fixed interior fixtures, facilities, and added modern furniture to every room in the hotel. Two years and sixteen million dollars later the renovations were completed. The Heathman presented beautiful interior spaces with a modern touch. Guests marveled at the shining marble floors and the giant crystal chandelier. In fact, the one-hundred-year-old crystal chandelier made its way to the Heathman all the way from the United States Embassy in Czechoslovakia. The new owner believed that in order to completely revive the Heathman he needed to amp up the luxury. He spared no expense, soon 18th-century French landscape paintings and furnishings in the styles of Biedermeier, Ming, Empire, and Regency were commonplace in the guest rooms. It seemed that this upper-class hotel regained its former prestige and then some. The Heathman prospered and changed hands a couple of times after its renovation. Rim Corporation bought the hotel in 2000 and then sold it to LaSalle Hotel Properties in 2014 for $64.3 million.
Today the Heathman remains an important historical landmark and is a hub for Portlanders artists and many tourists. The hotel features doormen and an English bulldog dressed in old English Beefeater costumes. There are many sculptures, one of which is a dog bowl filled with fresh water donated by Banfield Pet Hospital in 2010. The hotel has a library with over 3000 books which are all first editions signed by the author that wrote them. The Heathman is known as one of the top 500 best hotels in the world and is listed as one of the most haunted hotels in America.
Don’t let the glitz and glamor fool you, there is something supernatural happening inside the Heathman Hotel. According to the manager of the hotel, rumors say that a person jumped to their death from one of the rooms. Guests report hearing screaming from rooms ending in 3. The person, legend has it, jumped from room 703 and fell through the glass window of the library below. Room 703 is reportedly the most haunted room in the whole hotel for that reason. In 2008, a guest staying in room 703 went down to the front desk in a huff. She told the hotel staff that someone had thrown the clean towels in her room on the floor. The staff promptly replaced her towels. Later on, in the evening, the woman noticed that the new towels were on the floor in the bathroom. This time, she said, she knew that no one had been in the room. Room 503 is also alive with supernatural activity. Guests report a crying ghost waking them from a dead sleep only to vanish when they get up out of their beds. Others report things moving all about the room. This was the case for a woman who stayed in 503. She complained to the manager that someone must have gone into her room without her permission. When the manager asked for further detail the woman explained that her suitcase and clothing had been moved about the room. To reassure the guest the manager did a key audit on her room key. This would show which staff members, if any, entered the room during that day. The report showed that no one but the guest had entered the room. The manager replaced the woman’s key just in case but the next morning the woman reported that her clothing had been moved again.
One of the strangest happenings reported in room 703 involved a TV. A guest taking a shower heard the TV in their room turn on. The guest turned the TV off and then went back into the shower. The TV roared back to life a second later. The guest decided to report the incident to the hotel staff. A staff member went up to 703 and turned the TV on and off again. The guest swore up and down that something was wrong with it. Then just as the staff member got up to leave the TV roared to life with the audio full blast. The guest immediately asked to be moved to another room. Housekeeping has also reported strange activity coming from the rooms ending in 3. One worker upon entering 503 saw a giant ball of energy zipping about the room. Soon, it became such a common occurrence that one of the cleaning staff snapped a picture of it. The photo hangs in housekeeping’s breakroom to this day.
For the brave staying in room 703 is an adventure, for others a nightmare waiting to happen. The next time you’re in Portland be sure to stop in, experience the art, the expansive library, and everything the Heathman has to offer! It is not known what exactly is going on inside the Heathman Hotel. No one knows if it is a mischievous ghost or vengeful spirit that haunts the rooms ending in 03. Some people believe the ghost stories and some people don’t. We will let you be the judge!