Who We Are - Desert Arms Hotel

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In 1932, when Anthony Reopel brought forward the idea of a new and modern hotel to the residents of Oliver, little did he realize the commotion his proposal would raise in the relatively new village. At the time, Oliver was a "dry" community.
Prohibition was nationally repealed in 1919, with the responsibility shifted to provinces to decide if they wished to sell alcohol through licensed vendors. British Columbia and Quebec were the first provinces to allow such, but B.C. left it up to individual communities to decide whether licensed establishments would be allowed. For thirteen years, Oliver remained officially dry, though there are rumours that unofficially, there were a number of venues which brought visitors to the Oliver area from the United States, which remained under prohibition.

When Mr. Reopel put forward his plan for a large modern hotel with a fully licensed dining room, the idea sent shockwaves through the community. For three years, the debate raged as to whether to allow beer sold by the glass at a public establishment. Rumours swirled that if a license was granted to Mr. Reopel, the proposed hotel, with sixteen sleeping quarters (but only seven bathrooms) would in fact not be built, but the structure would instead focus on the dining room, and would only be a fraction of its present size. Oliver residents felt that Mr. Reopel was not being open with the town, and refused his license.

Mr. Reopel persisted and continued to plead with the community. Finally, on February 14, 1935, with a plebiscite looming on February 27 on the issue, Mr. Reopel wrote a full-page article in the Oliver News, outlining his intentions and his promise to the community. In this article, he stated clearly that if the response was favourable, he would build the hotel.

Without it, the hotel would not be built. He described the building, designed by Mr. Thomas L. Kerr, Architect. The building was to include a beer parlour, rotunda, office, and sample room, in addition to the sleeping quarters above. In addition, there was to be electric lighting, hot air heating and, believe it or not, air conditioning. This was to be a thoroughly modern facility, with every modern convenience available, constructed at the cost of $20,000!

Of course, included in the plea was the implied message that the hotel was vital to the development of the town, and the increased traffic to Oliver would increase the number of paid staff in town. Therefore, without the hotel, Mr. Reopel suggested the village would not prosper. The residents of Oliver responded to the plea and approved the sale of beer by the glass within its borders. Work began almost immediately, and Mr. Harvey Boone, a local contractor, was awarded the contract. Within three months, the building was complete, and held its grand opening May 24, 1935. The first post prohibition "legal" beer was served in the Hotel Pub.!  The primary structure of the hotel is virtually identical to the original concept drawing of the hotel. Along the way, however, there were some changes made to the property and site. For example, along the back of the property where it abuts the current (Station Street), there were a series of cabins, separate from the main hotel structure. These were removed in 1982. The north part of the building is essentially as built.

However, it has been modified to take out some windows. In 1964, the neon sign was raised, echoing a Streamline Moderna accent, which was consistent with the time the hotel was built. In the 1980’s, the south part of the building had a beer store added to the front, which altered the appearance of the hotel, and was inconsistent with the Tudor styling of the rest of the building.

The original wood accents evoke a memory of the grandeur of the hotel. Eighty Plus years after it was constructed, the building is still impressive, doors on the rooms of the hotel were replaced a few decades back with the solid doors from the Devonshire Hotel in Vancouver, and the old hotel shows little sign of wear, other than a healthy patina of age. Despite his struggle with the community, however, Anthony Reopel did not stay in Oliver long. Two years after the hotel was built, it was sold to the Vandepittes from Vancouver. Little is known about where Mr. Reopel went after he left Oliver. One of the current owners had her baby shower in this Hotel & Pub as her parents in the early 1960’s owned the Hotel (both since deceased). It was still the Reopel Hotel back then, changing its name to the Desert Arms Hotel in 2007.Numerous upgrades and changes have happened over the years, but the Hotel still holds some of that old time charm within it’s walls. (The view, as pointed out by one patron, isn’t quite the open vista and sprawling farmland it was when the Hotel was built. We apologize for that.)

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