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Image: Mike Novak

In 1881, the Mariner’s Building at NW Third and Davis was a refuge for young sailors hoping to find respite from the dangerous streets of pioneer Portland.

“It has an internal beacon, this building,” explains Gabe Genauer, one of four owners who’ve spent two years and $3 million restoring the structure. “Chinatown is still central and has an untouched grittiness. What we wanted it to be, it already is.” 

Opened this fall, the Society Hotel has a 24-bed communal sleeping space, kitchenettes, lockers, and lounge area. Stays start at $35 a night, or $1.45 in 1881 dollars.

Gutting the structure yielded World War II newspapers, a jug of wine likely hidden during Prohibition, and antiques from the upper floors, left untouched for 68 years. The second-story suite houses evidence of the old front door from when the entire structure was lifted to build a new storefront in 1892. Another room contains an old guest’s graffiti: The Frisco kid stopped here ... headed South. A Japanese couple owned the building before being interned during World War II. Then, following the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, several Chinese friends turned the building briefly into the Queen’s Hotel. Subsequently, the space became a Jewish-run dry goods store, then a movie set. And, according to the owners, the building is rumored to have been home to “gypsy royalty” at one point.

One century’s roughness is another century’s bastion of authentic, marketable grit. One hopes the drunken sailors would still feel at home.

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