New owners take the helm at historic Bishop Victorian Hotel

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 10/31/20

It really was love at first sight.

Jessica Jennings had never been to Port Townsend until recently, but after seeing it for herself she quickly decided to stay. And she wants to give others a …

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New owners take the helm at historic Bishop Victorian Hotel

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It really was love at first sight.

Jessica Jennings had never been to Port Townsend until recently, but after seeing it for herself she quickly decided to stay. And she wants to give others a place to stay, too.

Jennings, along with her partner Eric Wennberg, recently bought the historic Bishop Victorian Hotel in downtown Port Townsend. And despite the obvious larger turmoils at work in the world these days, they have found the stresses and challenges of moving and starting a new business comparatively relaxing.

“We came in here and did a walkthrough and kind of envisioned everything we could apply to it and just got really excited — and sure enough here we are,” Jennings said.

“I’ve been a city kid my whole life and you can feel the difference between being here and being in the city. It’s just much more hospitable and people are really kind and have that small town generosity, which is great.”

The “city” to which she’s referring is both Detroit, where she’s from originally, and Seattle, where she and Wennberg, a Washington native, lived until relocating to take over the Bishop.

“We sold everything we had in Seattle and moved here, just jumping in the deep end,” Wennberg said.

“It’s interesting how it all worked out,” he added. “The odds were definitely against us being able to do something this spectacular — especially this year … The previous owners were so wonderful and so accommodating and they really saw something in us, I believe, that was what they felt was special that Port Townsend might enjoy. And for some reason they chose us. And the building kind of chose us.”

Though neither of the new owners had prior experience in the hotel biz — she worked in management for music venues, restaurants, and cocktail bars; he was in the beauty industry as an educator and award-winning stylist — both are passionate travelers who have long enjoyed the sort of boutique experience they want to offer guests of the Bishop.

“It’s got good history and good bones to it,” Jennings said of the hotel. “It’s a more personalized experience, and you go to these places all over the world and it’s more catered to the owners and what they have experienced in their life and where they traveled and also the area around [the hotel]. That’s always been of interest to me. I actually never expected to own one, but here we are.”

The Bishop boasts 16 suites, both one- and two-bedroom units, all of which have a bedroom separate from the living area; some have kitchenettes and fireplaces and the top floor has a good view of the water.

Despite the name, however, there is very little “Victorian” about the building — and that’s not all that’s deceptive about the name.

“It was more industrial,” Wennberg said. “The top two floors were storage for cigars, and then [downstairs] there was a retail space here and an attorney at law and some other things like that, but it was definitely not a hotel.”

It is now, though, after “serving a tour,” so to speak, as Navy rooming house in the ’40s.

Decades later, according to the hotel website, “Mr. and Mrs. John Pickett purchased the building in 1980 and opened it as a hotel.”

One might think a young couple moving to “the country” to run a hotel in a building reportedly built 130 years ago is a good premise for a horror movie (actually, it probably is a horror movie…) but Wennberg and Jennings said their experience has been distinctly lacking in chills.

Thrills, however, they’ve had.

“We are just so excited to be here,” Jennings said. “I have to say, it doesn’t really feel like work as much as it’s really exciting. It’s like a fun life project.”

In a way, Wennberg added, it’s not so different from the old house the couple left behind in Seattle.

“It’s almost like we have that house times 20,” he laughed.

Having taken over the business Sept. 1, the new owners have so far continued the established practice of exhibiting the work of local artists in the lobby, most recently (especially appropriate for the Halloween season) AJ Hawkins’ “The Reclamation,” a series of framed images exploring the decomposition of human bodies and the ways they are reclaimed by nature.

Eventually, Wennberg said the couple plan to make many of the hotel’s larger spaces more available to locals, too, including the rear garden.

“We have all of this space in this building,” he said. “And our plan and our goal is to make these spaces a place that the community can enjoy, with food and beverage.

“I’d like it to be known that our goal here is definitely to offer more of our space here to the community,” he added.

The owners said despite the cancellation of many of the events that most attracted people to the area, guests are still coming to Jefferson County.

“In our experience so far ... people are coming here to get out of the city,” Wennberg said. “They’re taking road trips up here to get out of highly populated areas to some place that kind of feels a little safer. People are taking care of each other here and I think PT is really well known for that. Definitely ‘Mask Up PT’ and ‘Jefferson County Cares’ — they’re really working and people are seeing that.”

Those wary of potential health risks involved in traveling away from home, the owners said, should rest assured all possible precautions are being taken at the Bishop.

“[We’re using] sanitizing foggers, there is hand sanitizer everywhere, we have extra masks if people need them; things are being extra cleaned,” Wennberg said. “The one thing that hotels have over [Airbnb] is that hotels have a structured protocol. Airbnbs don’t, and it’s really funny because now Airbnb has started a whole new part of their website that goes to hotels because they can’t trust that Joe Smith is cleaning his house properly for the next person that comes in.”

Although that wasn’t exactly the kind of individualized, boutique experience they expected to offer guests when they began dreaming of owning a hotel, Jennings said it’s all part of providing what she calls affordable and comfortable “five-star amenities.”

“We want to give them special treatment that they may not find elsewhere,” she said.

The Bishop Victorian Hotel is located at 714 Washington St. Visit www.bishopvictorian.com or call 833-254-2469 to learn more or make a reservation.

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