McGrath opens amid fanfare
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:09 PM
NORTH BEND - For decades the McGrath Hotel building at the corner of North Bend Way and Main Avenue South was the center of activity in the Upper Valley, but in recent times the building fell into disrepair. Now, thanks to more than a year of restoration work, the historic building is back, returned to its original glory.
The building's owners, Dale and Susan Sherman, held a private grand opening and ribbon cutting May 12 for 100 people, including North Bend, King County and state officials. While patrons in the 1940s would check in at the reception desk or belly up to the bar in the front of the building, guests on Saturday sipped wine and marveled at the craftsmanship on display throughout the lobby. They listened to a speech from Seattle architect Jack Williams about the remarkable history and significance of the
"So often we read about history or turn on the TV and watch the History Channel, but this is an example of having living history in our community," said David Irons, county councilman. "We are standing in the middle of living history. This is not someplace we will tell our children about, but will bring our children to. And the Shermans took the time and energy to bring it together and preserve the history, not rip it out."
The McGrath building, a King County landmark, is also part of North Bend's landmark historic district and will soon be on the National Register of Historic Places. The designations signify that the building is an important part of local and state history.
Since its opening in the 1920s, McGrath's, as it was known, was the place to go for dancing to a full orchestra, dining in the cafe while enjoying a view of Mount Si, sipping an ice-cream soda or knocking back a whiskey. Its restaurant now houses Robertiello's, an upscale, yet casual Italian restaurant. The upstairs, once full of hotel rooms, will soon be leased as office space. Chris Bruntz's Edward Jones business is located in the side portion of the building that used to be the garage.
"It's really the jewel in the revitalization crown ... It was the hotel on the Eastside," said Susan Sherman. "Large business groups had conventions there, it was a Mecca for rich hunters that would go east, and it was a pretty ritzy hotel in the '20s and early '30s."
The McGrath Hotel is one of many historically significant downtown buildings to be restored in the last few years, including the Masonic Lodge, Iron Age, North Bend Theatre and the McClellan building.
The Shermans took advantage of city, county and national historical restoration project grants to help fund the endeavor. They applied for national historic recognition, which will give them a one-time 20 percent tax credit, and they received assistance from the King County Landmarks and Heritage Program in the form of design guidance and a 10-year special tax valuation. The city of North Bend lent a hand with financing the facade's reconstruction.
The McGrath building sits near the site of the cabin owned by William H. Taylor, the man who plotted the original North Bend town site in 1889. Prior to 1910, a wood-framed commercial building with a bank, jewelry and repair shop stood on the hotel's exact location, but was torn down.
The hotel building started out as a single-story cafe built in 1922 by Jack McGrath, who owned and managed several restaurants in western states between 1905 and 1915. In late 1925 and early 1926, McGrath added a second-floor hotel onto the restaurant and expanded the first floor to include a lobby. For the design, he hired the well-known Seattle architectural firm Stuart and Wheatley, which designed other landmarks in Puget Sound, such as the Bergonian/Mayflower Hotel in downtown Seattle, and the Marlborough and Exeter House apartments in North Seattle.
The McGrath hotel opened during the onset of increased travel through the region, and both it and the cafe were popular gathering places from the time they were built and well into the late 1960s. Advertisements in The Snoqualmie Record in the 1930s and '40s listed McGrath's as a safe place for "young folks" to dance, a place where a man could take his wife or lady friend for a "tasty" waffle, and boasted of its 16-foot-long soda fountain, with "lots of hot water for washing."
The hotel had a lobby with a reception desk, 19 rooms, 10-feet by 12-feet, with sinks and seven bathrooms. A fashionable ladies' sitting room upstairs gave women a place to chat, away from the rowdy men.
The hotel had a risqu