exterior view of The Benson Hotel

A Century and Counting: The Historic Benson Hotel in Downtown Portland

A Century and Counting: The Historic Benson Hotel in Downtown Portland

The Benson, a Coast Hotel, is a AAA, 4-Diamond property with 287 luxury-appointed guest rooms in downtown Portland. Built in 1913, the hotel embraces its rich history with traditional European styling coupled with upscale modern amenities such as Tempur-Pedic Sleep System beds, organic bamboo robes, and 24-hour room service. Bring Fido too, because The Benson is pet-friendly.

Ideally located downtown, Portland’s key attractions like Pioneer Square, the chic Pearl District, and a large food cart pod are walkable from The Benson. Fun fact: Portland is considered the birthplace of the modern food cart.

Should you choose to stay onsite, there’s plenty to entertain you. The family-friendly Palm Court restaurant serves wine from The Benson’s 1,500-square-foot private wine cellar and holds the honor of being the longest continuously operating jazz venue in Portland. El Gaucho is a classic steakhouse that also offers a cigar bar, live flamenco music, and tableside service.

Between the luxurious bedding and the quality dining options, you may not want to leave the hotel. If you do choose to venture out, The Benson Portland’s Gold Key Concierge can arrange anything from dinner reservations at the hottest restaurants in town to a day trip to Mount Hood.

History of the Benson

In 1912, lumber magnate and philanthropist Simon Benson commissioned architect A.E. Doyle to build the New Oregon Hotel alongside the Oregon Hotel on SW Broadway. The hotel was designed in the French Second Empire style and modeled after the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, complete with a glazed terra cotta exterior. The construction took just over one year and came with a hefty price tag: reportedly around $1.5 million, which would be nearly $40 million today.

When it opened its doors in March 1913, the New Oregon Hotel was considered the finest hotel west of the Mississippi River and had some of the most advanced conveniences available, including closets with electric lights and telephones in every room.

The hotel was not profitable during its first year of operation, so 16 months after opening Simon Benson took the reins and renamed it The Benson Hotel. In 1959, the adjacent Oregon Hotel was demolished and a 175-room addition to The Benson was built, doubling its occupancy maximum. In 1986, the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a City of Portland historic building. A $17 million restoration in 1991 updated the hotel but kept decor strictly traditional, with cherry wood furniture, floor-to-ceiling wood paneling, and gold leaf inlays. Today, it’s known as The Benson, a Coast Hotel.

rose bowl parade convertible car

While The Benson has been bought and sold numerous times over the last 100 years, the common areas have been virtually untouched and are as opulent as ever. The lobby walls and pillars are constructed of now-extinct Circassian walnut from Russia, which still gleam as if they’ve been freshly polished. The sweeping 12-story stairwell in the lobby is made of imported Italian marble and bears a cast iron railing.

The Benson Stairwell

Much more than a lavish walkway, the Historic Benson Stairwell features photos — some dating back to 1847 — of over 50 historic buildings in Portland, illustrating the hotel’s history and its transformation over the last century. Simon Benson spent much of his life in civic service dedicated to his beloved city of Portland, including donating 1,000 acres near Multnomah Falls and gifting the city “Benson bubblers,” continuously-running copper water fountains. These contributions and many other aspects of Portland’s history are depicted throughout the stairwell, with each of the landings highlighting a different theme.

sammy davis jr at the benson hotel

While it isn’t open to the public, guests of The Benson Portland, a Coast Hotel can schedule an exclusive tour of the Historic Stairwell to learn more about its notable history. Some of the gallery themes hotel guests will enjoy include:

Portland Then & Now

Lewis and Clark discovered Oregon in the early 1800s and sang its praises on the east coast, raving about the fertile land and abundant beauty. It wasn’t long before wagon trains began trekking more than 2,000 miles in search of the storied land. Photos in the Historic Benson Stairwell also tell the tale of how Portland got its name. Spoiler alert: it was a coin toss.

By the end of the 19th century, Portland was the largest city in the northwest, with a population of 90,000. As the Alaska gold rush and railroads began to thrive, Portland hosted the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905. The result was a population boom, and the city had over 200,000 residents in 1910.

Today, shipping is still an important industry in the city and the population is about 647,000. As pictures in the stairwell show, the skyline is comprised of a mix of century-old Portland historic buildings and new boutique hotels.

The Celebratory Street

Bustling Broadway was once called the “brightest street in the world,” because its marquees and neon signs resembled New York City’s Broadway. When the hotel opened in 1913, Broadway was a lively street lined with shops and theaters. Most of the theaters closed in the ’60s and ’70s, but today Broadway is still in the middle of all the action, and the Benson’s stairwell documents this transition in photos. Pioneer Square, Chinatown, and the ultra-trendy Pearl District are all within walking distance of The Benson, and the MAX Light Rail stops just 1.5 blocks away. Leave the car at home and explore Portland by foot and transit!

images of the broadway floor at the benson

Hotel of the Stars

Elvis, Mary Tyler Moore, and Morgan Freeman have something in common: they have all stayed at The Benson, along with an impressive list of other celebrities, CEOs, and professional athletes whose pictures adorn the walls of the Historic Stairwell. It’s not uncommon to spot NBA players dining at El Gaucho when they’re in town playing the Trail Blazers. The top-notch accommodations at The Benson really are fit for a “King.”

Residence of Presidents

For well over 100 years, presidents and other political dignitaries have chosen The Benson as their home away from home. In fact, every sitting president since William H. Taft has paid the hotel a visit. That’s quite an honor, and The Benson’s staircase proudly displays the evidence.

presidents wall at the benson

The Benson, a Coast Hotel in the heart of historic downtown Portland, combines luxury and tradition in its elegant guest rooms, range of suites, 18,000 square feet of meeting space, and world-class amenities, including:

● 24/7 fitness center
● Complimentary wifi
● Tempur-pedic beds with premium bedding
● Premium Gilchrist & Soames® bath products
● Complimentary Starbucks coffee and tea service

living room at the benson hotel

The hotel is pet-friendly and located within walking distance to everything Portland has to offer. It’s no wonder The Benson Portland has enjoyed more than a century of hosting celebrities and U.S. presidents. When you’re ready to join the guest list, contact us to book your stay!