Sunday Obituary: Ruthie LaRiviere left flamboyant mark on community

2010-09-11T20:30:00Z 2011-02-10T22:03:02Z Sunday Obituary: Ruthie LaRiviere left flamboyant mark on communityBy Leslie Slape / The Daily News Longview Daily News
September 11, 2010 8:30 pm  • 

No one could ever accuse Ruthie LaRiviere of being boring.

Her flamboyant style and passion for antiques created the eclectic look of Peter's Gay ‘90s Restaurant, a Kelso landmark on Pacific Avenue from 1963 to 1999.

The decor included paintings of nude women on the ceiling, a crystal chandelier from Seattle's Orpheum Theatre and a large stained-glass window bearing the image of Chief Leschi of the Nisqually that now hangs in the Kelso City Hall.

Equally distinctive was her home with its elaborate Japanese gardens where she and her husband, Peter LaRiviere Jr., lived on Kessler Boulevard. It was known as "the house with the upside-down Christmas tree" - a tradition she began in 1977 - and was showcased at least twice on the YMCA's Christmas Caravan of Homes.

An ornate French bed from 1890 made of porcelain and brass dominated a bedroom she dubbed the "Madam's Room," with a ceiling covered in mirrors. A bathroom featured an entire wall of stained-glass windows, a bright red bathtub, a crystal chandelier from the Orpheum, and a brass stool and dragonfly wall decoration once owned by famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

"I've always been interested in strippers," LaRiviere cheerfully told The Daily News while preparing for the 1995 Christmas tour. She wore gold eyelashes for that interview.

Ruthie, whom her husband always called "R.B.," died Sept. 2 in Renton, Wash., at the age of 90. A celebration of her life will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Monticello Hotel Ballroom with Tim Berg officiating.

Ruth Irene Swanson was born March 12, 1920, in Minnesota, to Nell (McDowell) and Ralph Swanson. She had three sisters, Thelma Kelly, Blanche Quinn and Evelyn Eversole.

In 1930 she moved to Longview, where she graduated from R.A. Long High School.

She and Pete LaRiviere Jr., a fellow R.A. Long graduate, were married Nov. 27, 1949, in Longview. They raised two children, Marlene Ruth and Peter Henry III.

In 1963 the LaRivieres bought the Don-Lee Cafe, originally established in downtown Kelso in 1938. The LaRivieres extensively remodeled and expanded it, decorating it with their collection of antiques.

"When we bought the restaurant it was so old and run down," Ruth told Daily News reporter Linda Wilson in 1995. "We didn't have the money to modernize, so we started going to auctions."

In 1970 they completed a $30,000 remodeling job that included the addition of a cocktail lounge dubbed the Red Garter Room. It featured a marble bar originally made in Italy for a saloon in Alaska and brought around the Horn by ship before the Panama Canal was built. The floor in the new lounge was made of brick from Longview's original railway depot.

The couple managed the restaurant together and brought numerous family members into the business, which closed in December 1999. They were generous givers to the community, often quietly, through the restaurant and as private citizens.

Ruth volunteered with the American Red Cross, the Humane Society, Toutle River Boys' Ranch, YMCA and many other local nonprofit organizations. She and her husband were longtime members of the Longview Country Club and the Kelso Elks.

Her husband died March 11, 2000, at age 78. Their daughter, Marlene LaVigne, died in 2002, and their son, Peter LaRiviere III, died in 2004.

Survivors include six grandchildren, Karna, Peter IV, Seth and Jetta, Amy and Travis; and five great-grandchildren, Caroline, Hailey, Dayton, Kasey and Brenden.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Humane Society of Cowlitz County, P.O. Box 172, Longview, WA 98632.

Copyright 2014 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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