When you walk through the double glass doors of Hotel Planter and look up the grand staircase, the sense of history immediately envelopes you. You can almost hear the voices of the past – wealthy Seattle tourists, merchants, and mill workers mingling in the lobby, as the sounds of a bustling waterfront waft through second-floor windows open to the street-front below.
Originally built in 1907 on land owned by Louisa Ann Conner – wife of John Conner and for whom La Conner is named – the hotel was at the center of a burgeoning timber, fish, and agricultural-based economy that included shipping routes moving freight and passengers to and from the southern reaches of the Puget Sound. Built of concrete blocks made on location, Hotel Planter originally had 22 rooms, indoor plumbing for its one bathroom, electricity, and La Conner’s first cement sidewalk. Sadly, however, over the years the hotel fell on hard times; by the 1970’s it was reduced to transient housing and was condemned.
The once beautiful hotel was a shell of its original grandeur until Don and Cynthia Hoskins purchased the property in 1987. They set about restoring the entire building by first addressing the main-street level and then turning their attention to the badly-deteriorated second floor. There was ivy growing from the outside through to interior walls. There were holes in the floorboards. There were 10 layers of roofing materials to remove and dispose of. Cynthia describes it this way: “The exterior concrete was in good shape, but the interior spaces were simply awful. It was dangerous to walk around and it was a filthy mess. However, we saw this amazing potential and knew that this lovely old hotel could be beautiful again.”
With the help of funding through the National Historic Register, which came with an enormously long list of preservation regulations, Don, Cynthia, and Don’s brother Michael took on the two-year task of restoration. First, they carefully salvaged every single piece of millwork, from crown moldings to corbels to wainscoting, and they removed and cleaned every bit of hardware. Then they reconfigured the space to include a lobby with a common area and 12 beautifully appointed guest rooms, each with its own bath.
“When you restore a building of historical significance, there are so many challenges. In order to do it correctly, and within Historic Register guidelines, you must save as much of the original structure and interior finishes as possible. As an example, we knew we had to remove and restore the rickety banister around the open stairwell. However, the height of the original banister didn’t meet today’s building codes, so we had to improvise. Michael and Don spent long hours creating matching mill-work in order to raise the height to meet code.” Today, as you stand and look at the finished banister, it’s nearly impossible to know where the original structure ends and the extension begins.
It’s this kind of attention to detail that makes Hotel Planter so special. Each guest room door is original, as is the hardware. Each bathroom’s tile work is a lovely reminder of a bygone era. Two of the bedrooms have twin bed frames that are original to the hotel. Each room has custom furniture and furnishings that –plush by today’s standards – add to the ambiance of this wonderful and historic turn-of-the-century hotel.
Hotel Planter was a labor of love for the Hoskins, and when you step inside you can see why. They have transformed it back into a warm and gracious space that – today – still retains its sense of history and sense of place. Sitting in one of the lobby chairs with a cup of hot tea by her side, Cynthia smiles and quietly says, “We are so fortunate that we had the opportunity to restore this building. It was a lot of hard work. But when we hear from our guests how much they love staying in such a historic hotel, right in the heart of La Conner, all the work seems minor now compared to the chance we’ve had to rescue such a lovely old building.”