Hotel History

The Benson Hotel 1912 –
An Era of Elegance and Opulence

The venerable Benson Hotel, currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a Portland landmark, and a timeless tribute to its founder and designer Simon Benson. Carefully nurtured for nine decades, the stately hotel retains the opulence for which it is world-famous. A.E. Doyle’s architectural talent – reflective of a golden era – combined with Simon Benson’s tenacity, business savvy and impeccable taste; live on as the foundation of The Benson Hotel, an American classic. Doyle received the commission from Simon Benson in 1912, when architects were applying historical ornamentation to commercial buildings. The Doyle approach for the 12-story Benson was in the French Second Empire style – glazed terra cotta and brick exterior, arched lobby windows and a French mansard roof with dormers. A magnificent, 50-foot, glass and steel marquee – considered among the grandest of the day – announced the hotel’s main entrance.

Inside the hotel, Simon Benson went even further in his pursuit of elegance. Even the best paranazzo marble was not distinctive enough for the ornate main lobby walls and pillars, so he had them finished in rare, now extinct, Circassian walnut imported from the forests of Imperial Russia. Benson, as the story goes, was accustomed to footing rather extravagant bills; nonetheless, he is said to have almost fainted when he received the bill for the Czar’s rare wood. The priceless walnut, still sleek and glossy, remains a focal point of The Benson’s grand lobby.

Other notable features include the classical coffered ceiling, exquisite Austrian crystal chandeliers and the cast-iron railing along the sweeping Italian marble staircase.

The Benson construction progressed through 1912, with the grand opening March 5, 1913, as the New Oregon Hotel, an “annex” to the Oregon Hotel next door: Heavy doorknobs engraved “OH” can still found in the hotel, harkening back to its gala grand opening. The hotel was equipped with the latest innovations of the day, including automatic door switches and circulating ice water. The ceilings were covered with plaster molds, and the closets in the guestrooms were equipped with electric lights. Guests of the hotel were greeted each morning with a complimentary cup of hot clam nectar, a tradition eventually usurped by the coffee we now serve every morning.

The 1959 addition of 175 guest rooms, built on the adjacent site of the former Oregon Hotel, doubled The Benson’s room capacity, and allowed for the larger Mayfair Ballroom, which seats 400 people, as well as a new restaurant.

The comfortable Palm Court Lounge currently serves breakfast, lunch and excellent dinners with an array of fresh salads, sandwiches and pastries.

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