Downtown Spokane is stirring to life. Long neglected, often subjected to short-sighted solutions for long-term problems, the city's heart seems to be pounding again. Walt and Karen Worthy's meticulous restoration of the splendid Davenport Hotel and the work on the Fox Theater are the most obvious manifestations of downtown renewal, but there's more. In just about every corner, there's something exciting afoot.
And for as many projects as are currently underway out there in Spokane's urban confines, there's a fair amount of untapped potential as well. While many of downtown's original brick buildings have long since fallen prey to the "out with the old, in with the new" mentality that characterized the architectural and city planning values of the previous three decades, early 20th-century brick structures are still a common sight in the blocks to the south and to the east of department store row.
"Obviously, there's some very rich material around Spokane," says Ron Wendle, architect for local developer Wells & amp; Company. "We've found that it's often a challenge to do just one building. But if you combine it with adjacent properties, you can get a synergy. If you look at a whole block, you start thinking about combining several buildings into a single project. That's exactly what we did with Steam Plant Square."
Another developer who thinks in terms of block development is Rob Brewster, whose projects include the Holley Mason Building and the ongoing City Terminal renovation on West First between Monroe and Madison.
"I would say there are still some buildings downtown that need to be renovated and that would make great housing," says Brewster, echoing a sentiment common among downtown developers. "Housing is going to be the key for the next five years. If we can bring people down here, it will make it possible to build a sustainable downtown economy. The bars and the restaurants and the retail stores will all stabilize. It's so unstable right now. We need people living down here to put a demand on those businesses. And it will make downtown safer and more comfortable, too."
The Lorraine - 1909, three-story brick, 308 W. First
Originally known as the Lorraine Hotel, this compact and stylish three-story structure became the Denver Apartments in 1943 and finally the Denver Hotel (essentially a flophouse) before the upper floors were vacated in the early '70s. Until quite recently, the first floor was used as office space by Watson Co. realtors. The Lorraine is currently undergoing a historic renovation under the direction of Jimmy and Lori Gray of Mirage Homes, Inc. When completed (in a New Orleans French Quarter style), the building will have a total of 22 office spaces, a common reception area, a central atrium and first floor retail space.
The Morgan - 1910, five-story brick, 317 W. Riverside
Currently undergoing renovation by Wells & amp; Co., the Morgan was once known as the Fairmont Hotel, which straddled the West 300 block between Riverside and Sprague. In its nearly 100 years, this building has endured additions, removal of those additions, neglect and fire (once in 1941, and again in the blaze that claimed the adjacent Mars Hotel).
"We're converting it into office space," says Wendle. "That's moving along pretty well. We're just to the point of getting it tenant-ready now. This renovation helps push the downtown more to the east and kind of takes it out of the box bounded by Monroe and Stevens, the river and the railroad tracks. There needs to be more of that."
City Terminal Block - 1892-1910, on First between Monroe and Madison
The City Terminal block (along West First between Madison and Monroe, just south of the Fox Theater) consists of nine individual buildings. The oldest structure is the Montvale Building on the corner of First and Monroe, currently the cornerstone for developer and entrepreneur Rob Brewster's grand vision for downtown Spokane. A portion of the street-level space is occupied by Far West Billiards, but Brewster has definite and immediate plans for the entire structure.
"The upper floors are going to be turned into 20 nice, high-end apartments with a big open atrium and a skylight right in the middle of it," he says. "It will be really cool, fun downtown housing. We're also putting in a bar there on the first floor on the west side of the building and of course there's the Catacombs (a subterranean bar below street level on the building's Monroe side) which opens the week of August 12. The thing about the Montvale is it's right in the heart. It couldn't be in a better location."
Brewster's plan involves turning the entire block into a microcosmic downtown Spokane.
"We have our own downtown," he laughs. "We have the Brooklyn Deli, we've got Tryst coffeehouse, we've got Art by Yourself and Butterfly Gardens, the Catacombs, Far West Billiards, gift stores, housing, office space, art spaces and galleries. Our group owns the whole block. And we're developing the whole thing, emphasizing the alley. We're gonna make it a really cool place for people to live."
American Legion Building - 1900, six-story brick, NE Corner of Riverside and Washington
Originally built for the Spokane Club in 1900, the classical lines of the American Legion building (also known as the Metals Building) are accented by white-glazed terra cotta and lovely balconies. The spectacular center balcony on the building's west face is deep -- three windows across, two stories high and featuring stately Ionic columns. The building has undergone a number of structural changes during its history, including the removal of the ornate dormers and alterations to the roof after a 1930s fire. Over time, the structure's second floor housed the Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion and, briefly, a French restaurant. The street-level businesses have included a drug store, a tavern, a clothing boutique and (currently) a pawn shop.
"In the downtown core, this is the one that just keeps trying to happen," says Wendle. "It has the potential to be what I call a signature building for whoever wants to be the prime tenant. A bank or a law firm could put their name on the building because it doesn't really have a historic name like the Paulson Building. There are things you would have to do to upgrade it as far as codes go. It's also undergone an accelerated environmental deterioration in the last 10-12 years from rain and wind. But the potential is there."
Display House Building - Circa 1910, six-story, 170 S. Lincoln
The good old Display House building -- an understated but classy six-story red brick structure with arched white brick treatments over the top-floor windows -- is currently slated for renovation by Wells & amp; Company. Says Wendle, "We're looking to renovate it and do some things with that entire block. It's a wonderful building which we will probably convert to office space, although I know Ron Wells would really like to find more housing projects to get that mix of people downtown. He really believes in neighborhood revitalization, and historic renovation has been one of the best tools to achieve that. You renovate one building and enliven a block or a small area, and everything just kind of grows and expands from there."
Avista Substation - 1909, next to City Hall on Post
This historically significant and handsome Kirtland Cutter-designed brick structure rivals the Davenport and the Great Northern Clock Tower as the most recognizable structure in Spokane. Though its expressive lines and general massiveness were meant to convey the power and prosperity of the then-young Washington Water Power Company, the building has never, in our view, served a purpose worthy of its good looks. It is still in use by Avista Utilities, but developers have had their eye on the property for years. Assuming Avista would be willing to sell or lease the property, the building could be eventually transformed for the sake of any number of intriguing potential uses -- a gateway to the proposed Spokane River Gorge Park, perhaps, an interpretive center or possibly even condominiums (with exclusive and unparalleled views of the falls).