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Tuesday, November 21, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pacific Northwest -- Walla Walla Is Fertile Ground For B&B Inns

Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

WALLA WALLA - The governor slept here. Influential bankers walked the parlor. A Chinese house boy had a basement room with a dirt floor.

Today, an aging white Labrador snoozes next to the radiator, while the hostess greets you at the door.

Patricia Johnson has purchased, redecorated and reopened the historic Stone Creek Inn, a bed-and-breakfast operating out of the 112-year-old Moore Mansion.

And while the building itself is older than Washington statehood, Johnson sees a strong future for her inn and others here in southeastern Washington.

"Walla Walla has a wealth of beautiful historic homes and old historic homes that lend themselves so well for bed-and-breakfasts," she said. "I think you'll see more."

Gingerbread and history

Stone Creek Inn is historic - and beautiful.

The three-story home towers over a four-acre lot outside downtown. The 12-foot high ceilings account for a sense of "verticality," Johnson said.

The house is done in a classic Queen Anne style, a type of Victorian architecture. There's gingerbread trim all around the outside, soaring staircases, two bay windows, five fireplaces, six bedrooms and doors, doors and more doors.

Johnson keeps a map of the house in a storeroom off the kitchen.

A tangle of trees - evergreen and broad leaf - fills the back yard and the perimeter of the lot.

Walla Walla history books show that the mansion sat in the middle of an empty field when it was built in 1883. The house was the home of Miles and Mary Moore. Local historians say he was a Ohio farm boy who came west in 1863 to find his fortune in the Montana gold mines. He ended up in Walla Walla, where he camped for a while in a clump of willow trees.

Eventually he became an attorney and businessman, as well as the son-in-law and partner of Baker Boyer Bank co-founder Dorsey Baker. Moore succeeded Baker as the bank's president, and he held that post for 21 years. He also was a Whitman College trustee.

"He must have had some influence somewhere," Johnson said: influence enough to get appointed territorial governor for the seven months before Washington was became a state in November 1889.

Stone Creek guests now can stay in "the Governor's Room," the bedroom portion of a three-room suite that included Moore's sitting room and a library.

Time and money

Johnson's history in Walla Walla is significantly shorter.

She came to visit her daughter and son-in-law, Cindy and Dr. George Waring, from Portland last winter. Driving around town to see the sites, they spotted the For Sale sign and called the real estate agent. The deal closed in September. Johnson, 57, redecorated and opened for business last month.

Some of the inn's furniture, including a rare 1828 Chickering piano, came from Johnson's old B&B, the Dana Estate in Portland.

Victorian-style homes are a hallmark of the trade, which grew up in New England, Johnson said. And with its large number of large Victorian homes, Walla Walla is oozing with potential for more bed-and-breakfast trade, Johnson said.

The city's other bed-and-breakfast operator, Margaret Buchan at Green Gables Inn, agrees. "There are a lot of gorgeous houses in Walla Walla," she said. "I have a lot of people talk to me about getting into the bed-and-breakfast business."

So what's holding them back? Time and money, Buchan said. "It takes some energy and it takes some capital . . . People become overwhelmed by the project."

Business potential

Constantly playing host to a stream of strangers can be wearing, Johnson said.

Bed-and-breakfasts fill a niche in the lodging market by catering to customers with luxurious touches such as real linen sheets and meals with a gourmet flair.

"It's a lot of work," Johnson said. "You do the laundry. You do a lot of the cleaning. You put real linens out. You cut the flowers and make it pretty."

But it's one way to keep historic homes open and accessible to the public, she said. "It gives us a chance to use it the way it would have been used."

And the business potential is there, Buchan said.

Bed-and-breakfasts got their start as weekend getaways for couples seeking escape from the city.

But since Green Gables opened in 1990, Buchan said she has seen an increase in the number of midweek corporate travelers - visiting doctors and executives, women particularly, doing business with the Corps of Engineers, Key Technology and Boise Cascade.

"It presents an atmosphere of home and they feel safer than at a motel," she said.

The growth of the Walla Walla Valley's wine industry could fuel increased business, Buchan said. "That's something that's a real tie-in for a bed-and-breakfast. It's kind of like the Napa Valley. (Inns) kind of grew up with the wineries."

Those are the same kind of people who would spend an evening at the symphony, a college play or concert, she said.

Buchan said she hopes more people take the plunge and start bed-and-breakfasts.

"It would be good for Walla Walla," she said. "This should be a destination place."

More information -- Stone Creek Inn, 720 Bryant Ave., Walla Walla, WA 99362; phone (509) 529-8120. -- Green Gables Inn, 922 Bonsella, Walla Walla, WA 99362; phone (509) 525-5501.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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