by Erin Stephenson
There is a running joke within our project that the Atticus Hotel has been planned from the corner booth downstairs at McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon, which happens to be one of my favorite places. “My booth” is all the way in the back on the Third Street side of the restaurant with a view of the Mack Theater. I’ve been coming here several times a week for the last year and a half, seeking quiet time and some space to work outside the hubbub of our communal office, which is literally just a few hundred feet away. But somehow it’s another world when I’m in my booth, where friendly servers keep me well fueled with iced tea and edamame hummus plates.
Lately however something strange has been happening. The deeper I get in the Atticus Hotel project, the more distracted I feel when I’m at the Hotel Oregon, as I become increasingly sensitive to how much work goes into creating a hotel. I am suddenly aware of the thousands of thoughtful decisions that went into the creation of the Hotel Oregon, from their eclectic interiors and their fun and funky art to the operational mechanics it takes to run a hotel with a restaurant and multiple bars. The time McMenamin’s spends in every location trying to really understand a community’s history is commendable, and I see that thoughtfulness everywhere I look.
I also see the lasting mark that the Hotel Oregon has made on McMinnville, both as the scene of many a night out for locals and also as the harbinger of our community’s pivot towards tourism, which really gained traction in 1998 when McMenamins began their renovation. I was a college student home for the summer at the time, and I landed the best job I could have hoped for: the day shift manager at the Mack Theater. The Mack showed second run movies for $1.50 on their one screen, and my job was to thread the projector before each show, help my co-workers sell tickets and concessions, and then count the till when the movie started. Once those tasks were complete we were allowed to sit out in front of the Mack in lawn chairs while the movie played, as long as we kept an eye on the counter. From that lawn chair during the summer of ’98 we watched the construction workers labor all day on the renovation of the Hotel Oregon as materials, equipment and people went in and out.
In my mind, that was the moment everything changed for downtown McMinnville. The arrival of McMenamins seemed to signal that McMinnville was a place that was about to happen—that the hard work of locals to revitalize downtown had paid off. And happen it did, as tourists drawn to the Willamette Valley for it’s growing wine and culinary scene began to recognize the unique charm of our beautiful little town.
And as much as the Hotel Oregon seems to represent the turning point for McMinnville as a tourist destination, we hope that the Atticus Hotel represents the next chapter in McMinnville’s evolution as a destination. The two hotels, located on opposite corners of the same block, offer two very different ways to experience Oregon’s Wine Country, ensuring there’s something for everyone in McMinnville. The Hotel Oregon offers fun and funky rooms in a cool historic building, with awesome bars both above and below, and the Atticus Hotel will offer a full service option on the other side of the block, with a full accoutrement of services, from concierge to valet parking. Together with some great B&Bs, vacation rentals and our own 3rd Street Flats locations, they give visitors to McMinnville a variety of ways to enjoy a relaxing vacation in Oregon Wine Country.