The Camas Hotel: Historic building celebrates 100 years as a local landmark

From pistachio-green walls to lawsuits to ghosts, the Camas Hotel has seen it all. The hotel, the oldest commercial building in downtown Camas, celebrates its 100th birthday this year.

Built in 1911 by Paul Hinz, the hotel was originally named the Commercial Hotel because the Camas Hotel was already a business across the street.

The new hotel thrives

Hinz was known as a strict man who raised his three children in the hotel after his wife died at a young age.

“Paul Hinz was a very colorful character,” said his granddaughter Rosemary Greenlee of Oklahoma. “Apparently he was quite a ladies man and quite a cook.”

Hinz was born in Prussia and ended up in Portland in 1897 when he was injured while working as a sailor. Intrigued with the area, he moved first to Vancouver and then to Camas.

He constructed the building using local timber not long after the mill opened, when Camas was expanding, according to current owner Karen Hall.

Hinz was an amateur poet, and every room contained a copy of a poem he wrote to discourage stealing.

Hinz used the basement to cook beer, pickles and other traditional German food, according to Greenlee.

The business the mill brought in was helpful to him, and the hotel and mill maintained a good relationship until it began manufacturing pulp.

The smell of the pulp mill drove customers away from the town and frustrated Hinz. He sued the mill for loss of business and won a $5,000 settlement in 1932, Hall said.

The people of the community were displeased with the lawsuit, according to Greenlee.

“People would rather have a stinky town with a job, than no job at all if they closed the paper company,” she said.

When Camas Hotel across the street burned down, the Commercial was renamed.

Building passes hands

Ownership has changed several times over the years, and windows and walls have been rebuilt and redesigned, but the structure and primary purpose of the building have remained the same.

At one point in time, the main floor of the building was Kent Chappel Grocery Store. In the early 1940’s it became Stevens’ Jewelery, according to long-time Camas resident Virginia Warren, who went to school with Hinz’s children.

“The outside looks exactly the same now except the title has changed,” she said.

Karen and Tom Hall, formerly of Ojai, Calif., bought the hotel in September 2008 with the goal of renovating and reinvigorating the business.

“We felt like it had charm,” Karen said.

It was a little run-down when the Halls purchased it, but Karen and Tom, builders and designers, had big plans for the place.

“Our motto is: wherever you go, leave it better than the way it was when you came,” Karen said.

Renovations transform hotel

The couple gutted and rebuilt the entire second floor, adding individual bathrooms to each room and converting the rooms into elegant quarters. They also updated the lobby and the manager’s apartment in 2009.

The third floor remains similar to how it was before. Tenants can rent rooms by the week or month, and there are shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen. The Halls plan on slowly renovating the third floor as well, but intend to keep it more basic than the second floor so it can remain affordable.

“In this economy, it’s nice for people to have a place they can stay that’s both respectable and affordable,” Karen Hall said.

Currently the second floor is reminiscent of a European-style hostel. Interns, nurses on temporary assignment and graduate students have stayed there.

Since the Halls took over the hotel, business has grown by 30 percent each year, Karen said. It is usually booked up completely about four days per week during the summer.

The hotel booked up four months ago for Camas Days weekend in July.

“If I had 100 rooms, I could fill them all on Camas Days,” Karen said.

The Halls also own Oliver’s, the adjoining restaurant. It was never their intention to open a restaurant, Karen said, but people wanted more places to eat. Hinz originally had a restaurant attached to the hotel, as well.

“I’m glad to restore the building to some of its former vision,” Karen said.

Celebrating the history

To commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the hotel, the Halls will host an open house Sept. 17.

Warren will present her speech “A Walk Down Fourth Street,” during the open house which tells of the ways Fourth Avenue has evolved throughout her lifetime.

The Halls have transformed the hotel, but a few things remain from the past, including some ghosts.

According to Hall, there have been sightings of a friendly ghost thought to be Amelia Hinz, Paul’s wife. Tales of ghosts from a murder-suicide in the early 1900s also have been told. But don’t worry, according to Karen Hall, the ghosts have never caused any problems.