Early 20th-century "subscription hotels" in several small Oregon towns — including Ashland — are monuments to one man's salesmanship, rather than architectural acumen, says a local historian.

Early 20th-century "subscription hotels" in several small Oregon towns — including Ashland — are monuments to one man's salesmanship, rather than architectural acumen, says a local historian.

John Everett Tourtellotte was the "schmoozer" in his prominent Portland architectural firm while partner Frederick C. Hummel likely drafted the duo's designs, says preservation consultant George Kramer. Together, Tourtellotte and Hummel erected Ashland's "armature," the nine-story Lithia Springs Hotel, in 1925.

"It's the focal point of downtown," says Kramer of the landmark now known as Ashland Springs Hotel. "When it had the giant sign on the roof, it must have been phenomenal."

Letters spelling out "Lithia Hotel," as it was alternately known, topped off the tallest building between Portland and San Francisco at that time. Then a destination for mineral-water cures and Chautauqua lectures, Ashland seized on Tourtellotte's optimism and commissioned a showpiece three stories taller than the architect proposed, making the hotel 112 feet at its highest point.

"They brought a version of ... a modern skyscraper to smaller towns that had never seen anything like that," says Kramer, an Ashland resident.

Investors' lofty hopes, however, were dashed a year later, when the passenger railroad changed its route to run through Klamath Falls instead of Ashland.

"They were bankrupt within two years," says Kramer of the Lithian Hotel Co., a group of 10 Ashland businessmen headed by Henry G. Enders Jr.

Sharing the Lithia Springs' fate were a half-dozen other Oregon hotels that Tourtellotte and Hummel built in the 1920s before the Great Depression guaranteed their decline. The architects also sold subscription hotels to city fathers in Grants Pass, North Bend, Eugene, Astoria and Baker City.

All remain standing, registered as historical sites and restored within the past 10 to 15 years, says Kramer. But Ashland's is the only one, he says, still operating as a hotel; others are offices, retail spaces and low-income apartments.

"It was so obvious that it just took the right people to bring that building back," says Kramer, who started consulting on the hotel about two decades ago for three separate parties who either owned or wanted to own it.

After Lithian Hotel Co. partners put up $240,000 in 1924, their edifice consumed the fortunes of several subsequent owners, notably Karsten Arriens, who spent five years renovating it in the late 1970s and early '80s.

Renamed the Mark Antony Motor Hotel in 1960, the structure endured decades of redecorating according to trends of the era. The 1950s ushered in modern interiors, including drop ceilings that masked ornately carved beams, cheap carpeting covering marble mosaic floors, and Formica and chrome that replaced original accoutrements.

The following decade's English Tudor theme intended to evoke the growing popularity of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with new furnishings and a swimming pool. But by the 1970s, the hotel was known as a flophouse of cheap lodging and apartments as more and more tourists flocked to modern motels instead.

"The rooms were so dinky; lots of them didn't have bathrooms," says Kramer of the original, 99-room floor plan.

Where so many others saw a money pit, developer Doug Neuman saw promise. He liquidated other local properties to buy the "Mark" at a bankruptcy auction in 1998 and rechristened it the Ashland Springs.

Neuman and his wife Becky spent two years and $10 million to restore the hotel to its former glory of Romanesque, Gothic and Neoclassical design elements. While construction crews stripped the hotel to its reinforced-concrete framework, Becky Neuman researched the hotel's history to devise a genteel, turn-of-the-century decor that would honor its past and celebrate its future.

Reopened in late 2000, the hotel is a prime example, says Becky Neuman, of properties that "best tell the Oregon story."

"You kind of polish up some visions maybe that have gotten some cobwebs," she says, "and make them sparkle again."

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or slemon@mailtribune.com.