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Travelodge to close
Island to lose only motel, replacement uncertain
By J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter
One more Island staple is checking out of the Town Center at the end of next month. Mercer Island’s one and only motel for the past century, the Travelodge, will be shutting down Oct. 1.
Located on the North end of the Island on the old Sunset Highway, now tucked away behind the large Mercer Apartments and Aljoya construction site, the 50-year-old Island fixture is slated to be demolished. The company that operates the business hopes to bring a new motel to the Island.
The two story, 33 room, 13,000-square-foot motel was built in 1957, according to King County property records. It wasn’t the first lodging on the Island but it remained the sole motel for its entire tenure. Calkins Hotel was on First Hill from the late 1880s until 1908. The Travelodge is a two story motel in the classic 1940s and 50s motiff where guests drive right up to the door of their room. The exterior covers two sides of the parking lot and is decorated with stucco walls and planter boxes along the balcony.
The closure of the Travelodge is one of many associated with the end of the old Mercer Island Town Center that was built along the Sunset highway before Interstate 90 barreled through. It’s adjacent to a gas station and the windows now look out into a new five story apartment complex and the construction site of another.
Terry Moreman, the director of the Island’s Chamber of Commerce said the Travelodge has always been a good member of the Chamber. She has been referring visitors to the motel for years. Now she will have to send visitors to motels off the Island.
“When people call here and ask where they can stay, we won’t have anywhere left for people on the Island,” Moreman said. “We’ll have to send them to Eastgate or to the bed and breakfasts.”
Moreman said the location of the motel made it a great stay for Island visitors.
“It’s in walking distance of everything. Families have been comfortable staying there while visiting the Island since the beginning. It’s close to Seattle but you don’t pay Seattle rates.”
Moreman also said that the Travelodge had a positive impact on local businesses and residents. During summer visits and for special events such as weddings the motel kept people on the Island, she said.
According to city officials, a new hotel could possibly come to the Island within a few years. Steve Lancaster, the director of the cities development services group said a hotel could also be built at the same location.
“The site is located in an area where the city code prohibits net loss of ground floor retail space,” Lancaster said. “Because there is currently no ground floor retail space on the site, there is an opportunity to construct a building without retail space, such as a hotel.”
A new hotel at that location could also overlook the new Aljoya courtyard and sculpture park.
Between the closure of the Travelodge and the potential new hotel, the two bed and breakfasts on Mercer Island will provide the only guest lodging for Island visitors. Ruth Mullen, the owner of the Duck In Bed and Breakfast said she did not expect the motel closure to affect her business.
“I don’t think it makes any difference,” Mullen said. “Some people like to stay at a motel and there are those that prefer bed and breakfasts. But it does make me sad to see it’s going. It’s sad there’s nowhere for people to go.”
Mullen, an Island resident since 1957, and her husband own the Duck In Bed and Breakfast on the East side of the Island. It features two rooms and is located just south of Barnabie Point and the boat launch. It is available for two night minimums at $135 a night for two and an extra $15 per additional guest. Similarly, the Mole House on West Mercer Way, just south of the Boys and Girls Club, has two rooms that can accommodate up to four people for $125 per night. The cost for two is $99.50 per night.
Rooms at the Travelodge range from $79 to $129.
Island’s historic hotel
Built in the late 1880s, Calkins Hotel was an elaborate but short lived lodge that hosted a U.S. president before it burned to the ground nearly 100 years ago. The lavish, storybook structure, built by pioneer developer C.C. Calkins was the centerpiece of the Island and former town of East Seattle.
According to the book “Mercer Island Heritage,” the grand building was a source of pride for many early Islanders. The hotel was ringed by large verandas and topped with turrets and towers. A large reception room filled much of the main floor, along with a vast dining room and kitchen. The upper floors contained 24 guest rooms and parlors, each with grand furnishings.
President Benjamin Harrison stayed at the hotel during his 1891 visit to Seattle, giving the hotel some notoriety. Near by were elaborate gardens and a large boathouse with slips for 100 boats.
Calkins sold the hotel in 1893.
After several years of various uses, including a drug rehabilitation facility, the structure was again opened as a hotel in 1907. But before it could finish its second summer season, the building burned to the ground. The three-story hotel burned on July 2, 1908 after a disgruntled employee stuffed rags into the chimney in the kitchen.
Not only did guests come and go at the Travelodge, so did the motel owners.
The motel changed hands at least five times in its 50 years on the Island. James Cassan, a local developer and owner of Dollar Development, owns the property today. Dollar bought the land in 2004 for $2.8 million. Ten years earlier, Jack Alhadeff and other Islanders sold the property to Jim and Connie Ahn for $500,000, according to county property records.
In 1978, the motel was purchased by a grandmother from California who wanted to be closer to her family. J.L. Hise bought the Travelodge in March 1978 because her five grandchildren and three of her children lived in the Seattle area. Hise had owned a retail clothing business in California before she retired and moved to the Island.
According to the motel’s management company, future development on the property may include a new hotel. According to a manager with the parent company, Westlodge Hospitality, a fancier hotel may replace the Travel Lodge.
Joe Maddux, a senior regional manager with Westlodge Hospitality in El Cajon, Calif., confirmed the Island motel as it is today will be no more as of this fall. It is closing its doors at the end of September he said. Maddux also said there have been talks within the company of building a new hotel at the same location. While that decision has not been finalized, it may be made in a couple of weeks he said.
As the director of the Chamber of Commerce, Moreman said she would like to see another family-oriented hotel because there are plenty of high end hotels on both sides of Lake Washington.
“It doesn’t have to be high end because we have those across the water on both sides,” Moreman said. “But we do need something.”