Monday, January 24, 2022
Jan. 24, 2022

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Jayne: Red Lion at Quay stirs memories

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor
Published:

For visitors, a city typically is defined by the things they can see. Unique buildings or landmarks or public spaces create visuals that linger in the mind, providing the dominant details of a particular excursion.

But for local residents, those visuals serve as merely an outline, as background noise for an experience. Memories of the people involved or the events that occurred take precedence, with the location serving as a fuzzy periphery. When you drive past a building every day, it oddly loses its prominence in the mind, instead melding into the background.

I thought about that this week in reading a Columbian article regarding the demise of the Red Lion Inn at the Quay. Because while I am a recovering Portlander and not a Vancouver native (my family has been on this side of the river for more than 20 years), the Red Lion holds a significant place in my personal history.

We’ll get to that in a minute.

First, as Columbian Editor Craig Brown explains in the article, the Quay opened as a restaurant along the Columbia River in 1960, just west of the Interstate 5 Bridge. A convention space and a hotel followed in subsequent years, and for a couple decades it was the place to be in Vancouver for everything from revelry to business meetings.

That place has been closed for a couple years now, and demolition is scheduled for the coming months, which was the reason for the article. It’s all part of a plan to redevelop the site known as the Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 1, adding to Vancouver’s remarkable transformation.

Although the Red Lion at the Quay soon will be gone, as Brown writes, “Its kitsch and charm will long remain in the memories of the people who stayed there, ate there, convened there and perhaps even married there.”

Which reminds me of a story.

In 1984, I was cajoled into attending the St. Mary’s Academy prom on a blind date.

For those who don’t know, St. Mary’s Academy is an all-girls high school in downtown Portland, and their prom that year was at the Red Lion at the Quay, known at the time as the Thunderbird. (As an aside, the band was Nu Shooz, who a couple years later received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist).

The name of my date will be withheld to save her from embarrassment, but the point is that a group of couples went to dinner at one of the girl’s homes and then took limousines across the bridge to Vancouver. Among the seven couples involved in the festivities, one of the girls was Patty Lopez, who also was on a blind date.

Patty and I went on our first date two weeks later. We now have been married for 30 years.

So, yes, in a roundabout way, I have the Thunderbird/Red Lion at the Quay to thank for three decades of marriage and three children. But, no, we did not get married at the Quay.

That story might be unique, but it makes one think about how many memories and life-changing moments have evolved on the site. And it makes one think about how many longtime local residents have their own recollections of the place.

For decades, the hotel and restaurant were defining locations in a downtown dominated by a brewery and cardrooms. For locals, the Quay did, indeed, exude kitsch and charm. And for visitors or people simply passing through, the huge Red Lion sign at the north end of the bridge was a landmark, ranking with the still-standing Smith Tower as one of Vancouver’s signatures — at least as seen from Interstate 5.

Now, a revitalized downtown and a burgeoning waterfront have supplanted the Quay in the public conscious . The Grant Street Pier is the place to see couples in fancy outfits taking pictures before prom. Those are the places where people convene and perhaps even marry, and they are the places where people might experience a life-altering encounter.

Times change and cities change, sometimes rendering parts of their past as little more than dust. And yet the memories endure.

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