By Alec Clayton
The hour-long radio play “The Hotel Olympian 100th Anniversary Grand Gala Extravaganza,” by local playwright Bryan Willis, received a Heritage Award from the City of Olympia’s Heritage Commission in a celebration on May 20. Also celebrated with Heritage Awards were filmmaker Shane Anderson, Thurston County Historic Commission and Placemaker Alicia Elliott.
Willis is a celebrated local playwright, founder and playwright-in-residence of Northwest Playwrights Alliance at Seattle Repertory Theatre; Senior Editor, “NorthNorthwest,” NPA & University of Idaho; and Artistic Director, “Play Buffet” summer theater program, Academy of International Education.
“The Hotel Olympian 100th Anniversary Grand Gala Extravaganza” recreates the hotel’s grand opening event. With the clever use of a fortune teller, Willis’s play takes observers on a 100-year-forward journey into Olympia’s history and current landmarks — invoking a renewed sense of community, longevity, and a few good laughs. Originally planned as a live on-location play, Willis reproduced this work as a radio play in response to the social gathering restrictions of the pandemic and maintained a 2020 release coinciding with the 100-year anniversary of the Olympian Hotel’s opening.
At the end of the 19th century, Olympia lacked proper accommodations to house legislators, lobbyists and visitors. “The lack of a first-class hotel was used as a club against Olympia in attempts to move the capital to Seattle or, heaven forbid, Tacoma,” Willis says. “Plans for a new hotel were delayed by World War I, the Spanish Influenza and a faltering economy.”
Willis noted that when it appeared Washington’s capital would be lost, over 150 private citizens pooled their resources (over $320,000) “to build a world-class hotel.”
The 1920s-style radio play was broadcast Dec. 20, 2020 on 93.5 KGY Radio. It was directed by Deanne Shellman and starred several local actors. The play was musically directed by Daven Tillinghast.
A full production of the play at the Hotel Olympian has been rescheduled to the final week in October.
The Heritage Awards
The Heritage Awards recognize heritage, history, and culture bearers who have worked in a variety of mediums to creatively connect, educate, tell our stories, and share our past.
Olympia’s Heritage Commission nominated four awardees for recognition in 2021. The nominations were reviewed by the General Government Committee and unanimously recommended for Council approval.
Shane Anderson, Documentary Film maker and Storyteller was recognized for his historical and current documentation of the land, water, and wildlife in our region and the complexity of human efforts to protect them. Shane’s films have educated the public, inspired public policy, and communicated calls to action to protect, honor, and preserve these places that backdrop our city, from the Olympic Mountains to our local waterways.
The Thurston County Historic Commission was nominated for its coordination and publication of “Thurston County Water, Woods & Prairies, Essays on the History of Washington’s Capital County,” an extensive account of the history of Washington’s Capital County, and the first published in 100 years.
Alicia Elliott for McIntyre House Restoration and Placemaking was recognized for her innovative effort in blending placemaking with historic preservation in a prominent block on Olympia’s Westside. Elliott’s 2012 vision to create a neighborhood center and gathering place on the site of the former Rowland Lumber building at the corner of Harrison and Division led to the creation of West Central Park.