A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LEOPOLD

Mission | Management | Local Ownership | History

Originally built in 1889, the Leopold was first named the Byron Hotel, after its owner Captain H.C. Byron. The Byron operated as a rooming house until 1910 when an entrepreneur from Seattle came to Bellingham to open a new brewing company. Leopold F. Schmidt, founder of the Olympia Brewing Co., purchased the Byron in 1910 for $100,000. The building's name was changed to The Leopold by Schmidt's partners when he was out of town, as a symbol of their appreciation. At the time of the purchase the hotel had 93 rooms. In later years, expansions of the hotel increased the accommodations to a total of 500 rooms.

The Leopold has always been a gathering place for people from all walks of life: From traveling salesmen, who were taking advantage of the new road from Seattle to Bellingham (Interstate 5), to well known celebrities. Famous figures such as President William H. Taft, Prince William of Sweden, explorer Richard E. Byrd, actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Cicely Tyson stayed here. Perhaps the most famous people of all who left their mark at the Leopold were Clark Gable and Shirley Temple. Shirley Temple was even heard to say, "It's so pretty and nice that I might like to live here."

The building itself, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered a Chicago design with Mission style interior. Inside the lobby, all of the original tile work shows on the walls and columns. This tile work was covered up by plaster board and false walls for many years. In the 1980s, the hotel changed its operational focus from a full service hotel to a retirement living community and it underwent a major renovation. During this process many other beautiful architectural details were uncovered. This restoration has been an ongoing process and a labor of love. In 2006, the original lions head spout was returned to its home as the centerpiece part of the fountain located in the main lobby. In addition, the original gigantic crystal ball was found through creative sleuth-work and a commitment to the true architectural integrity of the Leopold. The crystal ball was installed in the ballroom during the summer of 2006, finally back in its rightful home.

The Leopold is stunningly beautiful. It is currently home to approximately 100 retirement-age residents, many of whom have fond memories of growing up in Bellingham and knowing The Leopold as the vibrant social-center of the town.

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