Built on what was the edge of town during that era, the Imperial's main entrance faced south towards a street carrying two street car lines, which proved different than buildings near the river in Portland's business district at that time with entrances facing east or west. The buildings aesthetics impressed, with its first and second story stonework and the rest of its terra cotta exterior.
With the U.S. in the midst of a Depression, the city and papers described the opening of the hotel in 1894 as a sign of the city's growth; the sheer size and lavishness of the hotel served as a visual symbol of optimism.
Thomas Guinean served as the Imperial's first manager from 1894 to 1899 when Phil Metschan, Sr. and his son took control, and they helped the hotel gain its greatest fame. The story of the Metschans is a familiar one. Born in Germany in 1840, Metschan Sr. left Europe for Cincinnati -- a place with many German immigrants at that time -- in 1854. Six years later, he did what many did -- he took a trip to San Fransisco to find gold. And, like most who attempted to find riches sifting through dirt, riches eluded Metschan. Without a fortune in gold, he picked up and left for Portland in 1862.
But, his mining days were not over.
A year after arriving in Portland, gold was discovered in Canyon City, a town 45 miles away from the nearest train station. Metschan, along with 1,200 other gold-seekers populated the city by the mid-1860s. With an influx of people and better-constructed roads in town, Metschan, Sr. stopped mining and, instead, opened a butcher shop, followed by a general store. However, a fire in 1870 destroyed his store, but this time Metschan decided to remain in place and start a family.
His next step involved politics, serving as a judge, and eventually getting elected as the State Treasurer in 1890, at the age of 50. By that time, most of the gold mines in Canyon City had been vacated and the town's populace shrunk to less than 400. Hence, after 27 years in Canyon City, Metschan, Sr. and his wife left for Salem, where they lived for eight years -- Metschan continued to serve as the State Treasurer during that time.
Finally, at the age of 59, the end of his second term as Treasurer, Metschan purchased the lease and furnishings of the Imperial Hotel and subsequently returned to Portland. The hotel grew to become a popular place for politicians, and political parties, to establish headquarters. However, in 1910, the New Imperial Hotel was constructed adjacent to the 1894 building, and took over as the epicenter for politics; the old hotel transitioned to more traditional hotel functions. In 1920, Phil Sr. died and left the hotel to his sons, including Phil. Jr, who went on to his own successful political career.