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Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center

Historic comfort

What's 88 years old, covered in brick, and splendid all over? That's right, the Marcus Whitman Hotel. With 133 room and suites, six wine tasting rooms on site, a fine dining restaurant (The Marc), casual bar and lounge (The Vineyard Lounge), a rooftop garden, Chef's Table in the kitchen, fitness room, reception areas for up to 400, and state-of-the-art AV equipment, it has pretty much everything you need.

It is a community treasure: opened in September 1928, it was named after Marcus Whitman, an early missionary. Not only the most luxurious thing going, it was the place for gatherings in the Walla Walla Valley, plus the place to visit if you were a president or other VIP. As these things happen, the hotel fell into disrepair in the '70s. In 1999, local businessman Kyle Mussman formed the Real Estate Improvement Company and bought the hotel. A shared vision with the City and Port of Walla Walla, it was restored and expanded, maintaining its classic elegance and style, and adding cutting edge technology for conference needs. It reopened in May 2001 and is back to its former importance in the community. In 2007, more renovation opened rooms on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors of the tower which had been office space. There are three more floors where rooms can be added; this could happen in 2017, although nothing is cast in concrete yet.

Pieces of the hotel's history still exist: original holes where room keys were kept, the original clock, original phone booths. Phone booths don't work, of course, but they are lovely. One of the guests to stay at the hotel was George Reeves, the actor who played Superman. We were hoping he'd done a clothing change in the booth, but it didn't happen. Where was the marketing team on this one? The original lobby, where dances used to take place, is still in place with resurfaced floors. On the second floor of the tower, you can view 35 oil paintings by artist Dave Manuel, showing scenes from the life of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman (spoiler alert: it did not end well for them).

The historic tower includes premium luxury suites (including two-room king and spa suites), and the west wing houses standard rooms and junior suites. Some suites have both a king and queen bed instead of having a living area. There are four spa rooms with Jacuzzi tubs. At one time, a bank went into space near the lobby, and they added walls creating separate rooms. Closed during the recession, it left space to be filled. A gift shop moved in. Around 2008, the spaces were rented as individual tasting rooms. There is now a waiting list of wineries that would like to be there. During winter months, guests can stay in the hotel to do their wine tasting. The Washington State Wine Commission named the hotel "2015 Hotel of the Year." They have also been awarded the "Gold Green Leader of 2014" by Trip Advisor for their environmentally-sound practices.

The Marc offers a lovely and comfortable space to savor dishes created by a very motivated kitchen team, based on local ingredients. Their concept is Northwest-influenced cuisine with molecular gastronomic twists. Overnight stays include the 'Hot & Healthy Breakfast' in The Marc. You may yawn thinking of hotel breakfasts, but this one will have you satisfied and geared up for the day ahead. Named "2014 Restaurant of the Year" by the Washington State Wine Commission, it has also garnered awards from Wine Enthusiast Magazine ("America's 100 Best Wine Restaurants" four years in a row; Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence" for its wine list). Both The Marc and The Vineyard Lounge offer innovative wine and food pairings. In the kitchen, the Chef's Table seats up to 12 guests who watch the kitchen action as well as enjoy a multi-course paired meal.

Blackened salmon

More than 13,000 square feet of event space includes historic ballrooms with two built-in screens, microphones, and everything A/V. Eleven rooms, a pre-function area, and the Sunset Terrace offer space for any size group. Three buffets are offered annually in these spaces: Mother's Day, Easter, and Thanksgiving, with approximately 900 people attending each. The hotel kitchen creates menus for conferences/events, the restaurant, lounge, and catering (on- or off-site).

Owner Kyle Mussman lives in Florida now and though retired, is still plugged into email communications. "Kyle is a numbers guy," explains General Manager Dan Leeper.* When Dan was laid off a job at 38, his company offered retraining. He went back to school to study computers. He became an intern at a construction company in 2000 that was working with the Marcus Whitman Hotel. Eventually he was transferred to the hotel as an employee, working on low-voltage wiring. He became an expert on all the systems. Within four months, he became assistant general manager. When Kyle retired in 2014, Dan was promoted to acting GM, and then GM in 2015. "One of the benefits of working for one owner is that we don't have to check with corporate headquarters to get approval. If we think it's the right thing to do for the guests, we do it," says Dan.

While enjoying the history of the hotel, you won't feel any lack of current-day comfort. You will feel a reluctance to leave. All the more reason to return soon.

*Dan is now a self-employed hospitality consultant


Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center
6 West Rose Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Connie Adams/June 2016

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