Tyee Motor Inn – Olympia, Washington

Where The Real Business of the Legislature Was Done

The Tyee Motor Inn in Tumwater (Olympia) first opened it doors in June 1958 and featured 39 modest rooms and few amenities. After a few years the Motor Inn expanded and become a luxury motel with a restaurant and bar. into a luxury motel and by 1961 had become a popular convention and banquet hall. It also became an unofficial home for Washington state legislators.

 500 Tyee Drive Olympia, Wash. 98501 What began in 1960 as a modest restaurant-motel business has grown through public acceptance and acclaim into one of the West's finest finest motor inns, and now serves as the dining and social headquarters of Southern Puget Sound. Master Hosts.

According to an October 4, 1999 article by Peter Callaghan in The (Olympia) News Tribune:

“Anyone who experienced Tumwater’s Tyee Motor Inn during its glory days uses the same description: It’s where the real business of the Legislature was done.”

“Committees may have have met in the capital office buildings. Representatives and senators performed official duties in the domed Legislative Building. But the deals were cut in the dining room, around the pool, in the bar – and sometimes in the bedrooms of the Tyee.”

“The sprawling motel was the winter home to about a quarter of the members of the Legislature and many of the lobbyists. Love entertainment, sometimes including national acts like Frank Sinatra and Liberace, helped pack the lounge. The Jacuzzi suites near the pool were a popular venue for rowdy parties hosted by some of the state’s most powerful special interests.”

During the 1960s the motel owners continued to expand the motel and by January 1970 the Tyee Motor Inn boasted 209 units and 11 banquet rooms.

 

On January 27, 1970, an accidental fire severely damaged the motel. The fire started in or near an overhead broiler in the motel’s kitchen. The 209-unit motel, valued at at least $3.4 million, sustained major damage, with only 39 units and 11 cabanas left standing after the fire. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

Daily Chronice, January 27, 1970

The postcard on top (courtesy of SwellMap) shows what the original complex looked like before the fire. I believe the second postcard pre-dates the fire and shows the fantastic mid-century entrance . The third postcard features an elevated view of the newly rebuilt complex showcasing the new pool and manicured trees and yard.

After the fire, the Tyee was rebuilt but struggled to regain its status as the place to be and get deals done.

The Daily Chronicle – October 5, 1972

The rebuilt complex suffered anther fire in 1972. This one started in the room next to trumpeter Harry James. 11 cabana units were destroyed.

Again the Tyee was rebuilt but newer hotels brought newer amenities and nicer lounges. Newly signed reforms requiring disclosure of expenses for entertainment by lobbyists lead to a steady decline

After the fire, the Tyee was rebuilt but struggled to regain its status as the place to be and get deals done.

The rebuilt complex suffered anther fire in 1972. This one started in the room next to trumpeter Harry James. 11 cabana units were destroyed.

Again, the Tyee was rebuilt but newer hotels brought newer amenities and nicer lounges. Newly signed reforms requiring disclosure of expenses for entertainment by lobbyists lead to a very steady decline.

Peter Callaghan’s article mentions the sad end of the Tyee:

“Brad Nelson, the Tyee’s last manager, said the hotel lost out in competition with cheaper motels and the other full-service hotels that have been kept up over the years. The Tyee’s final owners – Starwood Hotels and Resorts – decided to sell rather than renovate.”

The Tyee’s days were numbered. The Inn was torn down in October, 1999. A Fred Meyer store occupies the space now.

16 comments

  1. Scott · February 9, 2017

    I was wondering about this place. Thanks for letting me know.

  2. Mashelle Patrick · April 2, 2018

    I attended a star Trek convention here . I believe it was in 1994.

    • Maya Bree · December 29, 2018

      So did I 🙂

  3. Steven bonnet · May 26, 2018

    I have so much information about this hotel. I was the last chief engineer, and with that title I was the last to lock her up, the doors where of course removed moments later. I removed the totem poles in the lobby, forgotten with time. The real reason it was an easy choice to sell was the crack that went from the kitchen thru the lobby and past the oly room. Water main busted under Sutter’s restaurant made it lean. Both crack and water damage cause by the earthquake… I will never forget the time a I had at this fine hotel! Brad Nelson was a fine GM and was well respected.

    • Evelyne Plaetinck · August 17, 2018

      Did you work there in 1973?

      You ever heard stories about Ted Bundy? He ate there regularly.

      thanks
      Evelyne Plaetinck

    • Karen Johnson · December 3, 2018

      Do you have any memorabilia from the Tyee? Or photos you could share? We’re doing some research on the Tyee and would appreciate some things to include in our story.

      • Lisa Gates · December 28, 2018

        My dad did a carving that took up a wall in one of the banquet rooms. It was stolen once but was retuned. Right before they tore it down someone called my mom to see if we wanted the carving. My father Richard “Dick” Clifton had passed away in 1993. My friends and I spent many nights dancing at the Tyee in the late eighties early nineties.

  4. Julie uphold · December 28, 2018

    I loved the Tyee. My family all worked there at one time in their lives. My mother was the accountant , I was a banquet bartender, my sister worked in the catering office.

    • Anna Schreiner · December 29, 2018

      Did ur sister know Goldie

  5. Anna Schreiner · December 29, 2018

    Many childhood memories at the tyee. My grandma was catering detector, my mom and 4 of my aunts worked there. plus one of my cousins and uncle.

  6. Chuckie · December 30, 2018

    Dad was a genius

  7. Ken Cochrane · March 19, 2019

    Played lead guitar and sang in a 5 piece band featuring Jim Ells for 2 or 3 weeks there in 1977.

  8. Charlotte White · June 12, 2019

    I was employed at the Tyee from 1986 to the day closed the doors, what a grand place she was. We made a memory broad that we all signed and hung on the wall in the housekeeping breakroom, as far as I know it was there when the building came down.

  9. Gary Greer · October 20, 2019

    Our Shorecrest Sr High Graduating Class of 1965 spent the night here for a dinner and dance with music provided by Paul Revere & the Raiders. What a hoot!

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  11. gary a swenson · January 26, 2021

    My dad Archie Swenson was one of 5 or 6 owners for a few years around 1971-1972 more or less, and I went to work there in the maintenance department for a couple of years. First job out of High school. I think the managers name at the time was Ron. The Tyee also sponsored my race car at the time and had their name on the rear quarter panel…It was a cool place!
    I was just telling my kids about the time that I had to go around the buildings and knock off the giant
    icicles that were up to 5 feet long and 1 1/2 feet wide. Thats how I remembered to check and see if I could find fotos of the Tyee.

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