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.

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