“For me it’s all about experience,” says Hotel Leo managing partner Peter Frazier. “I find myself in a position where I get to recommend to people all the best places, and there’s just no joy like the joy of helping people discover our community — and cool places — and come back happy.”
Frazier and business partner Bob Hall are the current forces behind two very different vintage, immersion-based hotel properties: the Fountain District’s Heliotrope, and downtown’s recently opened Hotel Leo.
“Local ownership of really cool historic spaces with a focus on experience is just the most exciting trend in hospitality, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of that,” Frazier says.
Both businesses serve areas of Bellingham that previously lacked mid- to upscale hotels for guests seeking a unique, local vibe. While Heliotrope blends retro-motor-lodge vibes with a cozy, Pacific Northwest feel, the Hotel Leo project is something completely different.
“One thing that we hear quite commonly from our guests is how much they enjoy being able to drive here, park their car, and then walk and bike all around the downtown,” says Frazier of the feedback from Hotel Leo patrons.
Although it spent more than 30 years as a private entity catering to senior living, the complex of buildings known as The Leopold was originally designed to be a hotel. Frazier and Hall have made it their task to use the infrastructure for its intended purpose.
“I don’t think we’ve had a hotel downtown for something like 20 years,” Frazier says.
The 1200 block of Cornwall Avenue featured a hotel for over 85 years. The Byron House Hotel was built in 1899, with another section added in 1913. The name “Leopold Hotel” came in 1914 after the death of owner Leopold Schmidt, a brewmaster who had established Bellingham Bay Brewery, and the name was extended to the luxurious tower building added on in 1929. Those buildings operated side-by-side until 1967, when all but the 1929 addition was torn down, replaced in 1968 by the three-story building that stands today.
“It operated — with this 1929 building — as The Leopold until ‘85-ish, that’s when the mall was built and really gutted downtown . . . and a corporation bought this whole complex and put in senior housing,” Frazier says.
Frazier has been associated with the building for the last few years, and oversaw the senior living operations. Because the historic building was not designed for assisted living — whose facilities now require very different accessibility specifications — the space was no longer competitive in that capacity. The building was slated to become apartments when the idea came up to revive the hotel.
“Our vision is really to bring the community back into the building and to help downtown revive and grow and thrive,” Frazier says. “Bob and I would not have done this project, probably even five years ago, but . . . we have so many great restaurants and bars and entertainment and shops. There’s just been this great revival downtown, and so we wanted to double down on that and invest heavily in this property to encourage visitors to come stay downtown.”
From the on-site parking for hotel guests to the stunning period lobby and artistic, locally sourced details in each room, there is no doubt visitors will enjoy their stay. Of the 40 hotel rooms, nine are in the 1929 section, where guests encounter tasteful immersion in the past. Thirty-one rooms are in the 1968 wing and feature modern elements such as Moon Chairs and American Leather sleeper sofas from the Greenhouse, art from local photographer Ginger Oppenheimer, and gorgeous green shower tilework from the Color Pot. Frazier says he worked closely with Greenhouse, Ideal, and other local businesses to outfit the hotel.
The rooms feel clean, spacious, and modern. Many also feature views of downtown or the bay. Frazier brags about the mattresses, all from a company in Portland. The suites have full miniature kitchens, not just a microwave, and feature coffee from Tony’s Coffee. Pets are welcome with a small fee, and receive their own dog dishes, treats, and waste bags.
The rooms are charming and exceedingly comfortable, but the common spaces are what make Hotel Leo a truly memorable destination. Starting with the gleaming, newly unearthed terrazzo floor in the lobby, moving to the paint and sound panels added to make the ballroom into a more useful and rich-feeling space, and finishing with the cocktail lounge and retail spaces still in works — the first floor already feels like a luxurious step back in time.
Frazier describes his vision for when the hotel is in full swing: “The lobby is full of people who are traveling from other cities, people are coming in to go to the cocktail lounge, people are coming in to go to events here, our apartment dwellers are coming down for drinks and food. I think that it’s going to become the social center of Bellingham again. That’s really a big part of our vision.”
Other common areas include a social lounge with tables, couches, and shuffleboard; a library with floor-to-almost-ceiling bookshelves, comfy seats, and a pool table; a four-room gym facility; and a private movie theater themed after Clark Gable’s stay during the 1935 filming of “Call of the Wild.”
Additional spaces and possibilities are still on the drawing board.
“There’s a commercial space that is unused at this time that would make a perfect spa…” Frazier says. “There’s an elevator that goes right from the ‘68 wing down to the spa — it would just be so great to put on your nice comfy Hotel Leo robe and walk down there.”
Whether housed in the building or down the street, businesses will happily entertain visitors — or locals on a staycation — who can now base out of downtown. The Downtown Arts District offers multiple venues for shows and museum exhibits, and there are many blocks of fabulous retail shops, salons, bars, and eateries. Frazier has created an app for curated explorations from Fairhaven to the Fountain District.
“It is just so fun — and gratifying — to reintroduce The Leopold and make fun things happen that are going to benefit the whole community.”
Hotel Leo, 1224 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham, 360.739.0250, thehotelleo.com