But Walla Walla retained some critical assets. Whitman College, established in 1882, was parked on the east edge of downtown. A wine industry grew from a few vines in 1977 to 34 wineries today. And there was a nucleus of people who cared.
"People are becoming isolated," says Robert Parrish, owner of downtown's Backstage Bistro. "I wanted us to start associating with each other again, and downtown is the place to do it. You feel more alive here than in a mall."
Says Timothy Bishop, executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, "Our most important decision was to not put all of our eggs into one big basket that was going to fix downtown. It was a succession of mostly small projects."
Today downtown holds renovated Victorian and beaux arts commercial buildings. It has retained the Bon Marché department store - partly housed in the 1917 Liberty Theater - and attracted serious wineries and tasting bars. Finally, last spring, a local entrepreneur named Kyle Mussman reopened the Marcus Whitman, after a $35 million renovation.
Real character is impossible to fake. It grows from within. Walla Walla, which Theodore Roosevelt might well praise today, proves it. - Lawrence Cheek
For information on Walla Walla, call (877) 998-4748 or go to www.wwchamber.com.
Flagstaff, Arizona. Theodore Roosevelt also stayed in this northern Arizona city - specifically at the Weatherford Hotel, now newly restored along with the rest of Flagstaff's attractive historic downtown.
Port Townsend, Washington. Much loved by tourists and residents alike, this Olympic Peninsula city leaps into the 21st century with a renewed 19th-century downtown.