Connie Parson, a resident of Hoquiam’s historical Emerson Manor, began researching the building’s illustrious past in 2013. Today she has accumulated a substantial collection of documents, photos and artifacts.
Connie was born in Santa Cruz, California. She operated a freight broker’s business for 22 years and moved to the Harbor in 2007 to join family. After living in an RV for two years, she moved into Emerson Manor at 703 Simpson Avenue in downtown Hoquiam. Over the last four years, Connie has been researching the building’s turbulent history. Her collection of source materials now fills four fat ring binders, a fifth contains memorabilia.
How did a freight broker turn historian? “I have always been interested in architecture,” says Connie. “When our former manager, Diane Griss, mentioned that someone should compile a history of the building, I said I would give it a year.” That was in 2013. Connie began to dig. She conducted her research in the Hoquiam and Aberdeen libraries and at the Polson Museum. She talked to people old enough to have memories of the early days of the building. She searched online looking for stories as well as artifacts.
Bit by bit, the story of the Emerson Hotel, Hoquiam’s pride of the 1920s, emerged. As Connie’s project became known in Hoquiam and beyond, she received unexpected help from people all over the Harbor. Chronicling the history of the former grand hotel became a community effort, just like the beginning of the hotel.
When George D. Ward began the excavations for the floor foundations for a new hotel in Hoquiam in March 1923, the community was also very much involved. The Grays Harbor economy was booming in the early 20th century. Travelling businessmen needed accommodations. Aberdeen had built the grand Morck Hotel to house them. Hoquiam had the beautiful Hoquiam Hotel on Eight Street which sadly burnt down completely in 1910. Always in competition with Aberdeen, Hoquiamites felt challenged to construct a new hotel.
The Hoquiam Community Hotel Corporation was founded. The Hoquiam Commercial Club sold bonds to 400 participants to raise funds for the planned hotel. The Hoquiam American Newspaper pledged to publish one article per week until the end of construction. The bond drive was supported by the Kiwanis Club. The goal was $350,000. On March 8, 1923, the enthusiastic Hoquiam community had collected $300,000.
Robert C. Reamer, architect of many important regional buildings, was commissioned to build the hotel. Names were suggested. A popular suggestion was Robert Gray Hotel after the Captain of the Lady Washington who discovered the harbor that is named after him. The hotel received its name just before the opening on April 30, 1924, from its first manager, J.A. Harding. It was named after George Emerson, one of the founding fathers of Hoquiam.
The Emerson Hotel was a grand hotel, indeed. The five story building functioned as what we would now call a convention center with 400-500 participants per event. The 1940 Duncan Hines Guide lists 110 rooms, 50 with bath, in this “city hotel of the better kind.” In addition to overnight accommodations, the hotel rented suites of four to five rooms on the top floor monthly. The ground floor boasted a ballroom and a bar, as well as a large ornate fish tank under the stairwell which a photo clearly shows to contain trout. “For diners to choose from, perhaps?”Connie assumes. The second floor held two large dining rooms, one for ladies and another for gentlemen. The Hoquiam Business Women’s Club held their meeting in the room later named the Rose Room. A 1924 document reports the construction of two tennis courts by the Hoquiam Tennis Club behind the hotel.
With the decline of the logging industry, the Emerson Hotel lost much of its clientele and its glamour. In 1933, there was a flood with 14 inches of water on the ground floor. In 1938, the Emerson Hotel was acquired by the County with $48,435 of outstanding taxes. The 1930s and 1940s saw a brothel on the second floor. “There is only sketchy information from the 1930s – 1970s,” Connie laments. “Most of the people who were old enough to remember the hotel in the 1930s have passed away.”
In 1970, the Housing Authority of Grays Harbor took over the building. HUD conducted a major renovation and the Emerson was reopened in 1972. Another renovation followed in the early 21st century, resulting in a beautiful, authentically restored building. Under a new name, Emerson Manor, the former grand hotel now rents apartments to senior and disabled low income Hoquiam residents.
There is still so much more to explore. “If you own or know of any souvenirs or items concerning the building, please leave them with the manager or the cook at Emerson Manor,” Connie requests. “If you have any memories or information about the Emerson Hotel, please contact me. Thank you.” You may call Connie Parson at 360-581-9752.