Three magnates from Spokane's golden years set their dreams in brick and mortar between 1888 and 1900, bringing to life three of the city's architectural icons. Each building steadfastly witnessed the birth of two new centuries, grounding Spokane to its past while looking toward the future.
Fast-forward to 2002. All three buildings are looking for new owners. Over several months, the three structures exchange hands and the new owners tackle the challenge of updating these 19th-century icons to 21st-century functions. All three buildings appear on the National Register of Historic Places. Each new owner makes a new roof a priority, to prevent damage to the interior; other needs include updated electrical and heating systems and repairs to the interior that range from cosmetic to overhaul. The owners all tackle their projects with energy, optimism and a fine balance between knowledge and naivet & eacute;. But the stories have very different endings...
Patsy Clark House
When attorney Richard Eymann proposed to his law partners that their firm purchase the Patsy Clark House and transform the building into their offices, the partners recovered from their surprise quickly and embarked on what partner John Allison calls a process of "due diligence."
"We hired someone to take a close look at it structurally," he explains, "and to look at the feasibility of turning it into offices without harming the building historically."
The partners worked closely with Washington Trust Bank to secure financing, and after a period of negotiation, found themselves the proud owners of one of Spokane's most prominent and well-loved buildings. While feeling a strong emotional attachment and sense of stewardship toward the building, the partners also faced questions of how to make the project fly financially.
"The bank has been very good about working with us, and we've tried to stay disciplined," he says. "But on the other hand, if you're going into a building like this, you have to go the extra mile, and we're doing that. Part of the price of buying something like this is you're buying something that the community rightly feels is theirs. This is a local treasure. We feel that the eyes of the community are on us, and there's great interest in what we're doing, but we think they'll be happy when we're done."
The firm assembled a team - including Walker Construction, Northwest Architectural Company and local preservation consultant Jim Kolva - and worked closely with Teresa Brum of the Historic Preservation Office and the state architect on preservation issues.
Allison notes that "Certain aspects of the building are subject to historic registry requirements -- the facade, which includes the roof, and inside, on the first floor and up to the mezzanine. The rooms off the mezzanine have lesser restrictions on them, but we've done very little to them."
The first - and biggest - step has been the repair of the mansion's molded and turreted roof. After many decades, the roof no longer shed the rains and snows, allowing water to seep into the interior. Although it looks like ceramic tile from below, the roof actually is made of molded sections of sheet metal. The firm researched the historical archives to find out more about the existing roof, and the contractors sought out material that would be consistent with the building. Roofers worked diligently for several months, and now the new roof is nearly complete.
Next came a major overhaul of the HVAC and electrical systems, along with removal of the former commercial kitchen. The third floor of the building had been heavily damaged by fire many years ago and never fully repaired, Allison says. This is where the most extensive work has been done, restoring the space to a functional use. On the mezzanine level, contractors are transforming the rooms into offices for the firm's five partners, as well as some space for staff. The firm plans to maintain the former dining rooms on the first floor as conference and meeting spaces -- uses that will impact those spaces the least. The Tiffany lamps that everyone remembers were packed up by a lighting specialist and are being stored off-site for safekeeping during construction.
Allison has high praise for the work of the local preservation office. "I honestly would have to say we've had nothing but wonderful mutual cooperation, because there's been great interest in this project," he says. "We were with them from the beginning. Part of our due diligence work was that we introduced ourselves to them immediately and let them know who we were and what our philosophy was, and also to learn from them what exactly the requirements were so we could plan accordingly. It turned out to match exactly what we were planning anyway."
Jim and Jamie Thompson moved to Spokane from Texas last year so Jim could accept a position with a local high-tech firm. Like many transplants, they searched for a new home online and they were struck by the relatively low real estate prices in the Spokane area. When they saw the Glover House - the earliest surviving Kirtland Cutter house in the nation - on the market for what, to them, was a quite reasonable price, they jumped at the chance to own a small piece of the city's history.
"In Texas, you don't see a lot of homes like this," says Jamie Thompson. "It was affordable to us even though we knew it needed a lot of restoration. We planned to be here for a decade or more so we could do it right over time. We knew how much money it was going to take to bring it back in shape, and we were willing to make a commitment to do that."
Note her use of the past tense; the Thompsons have put the house back on the market after owning it for just a little more than a year, and they'll be leaving Spokane when they find a buyer for the 116-year-old, 10-bedroom, 14,000-square-foot mansion. Their plans for the home's restoration began and ended with the installation of a striking new copper roof, a project that opened a cascade of difficulties including asbestos exposure, fines, litigation, and the attendant emotional wear-and-tear.
"The roof was leaking when we bought the house," Thompson explains. "The previous owner had gotten permission from the [Landmarks] Commission to put a composition roof on it, but we thought that wouldn't be consistent with the grandeur of the building."
After studying alternatives, they selected a copper roof made locally by Zappone Manufacturing. "We talked with Teresa Brum and her staff extensively before we started doing anything," Thompson says. "While some people on the commission were not happy with us putting the copper roof on, overall the commission did approve."
The trouble began when the Thompsons removed the existing cedar shake roof dating from 1974. Beneath the wood was a layer of niccolite paper, a roofing paper containing asbestos that was a common underlining for wood roofs from that time. During the roof demolition, the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority (SCAPCA) responded to a complaint about the potential release of asbestos fibers from the roof. According to Eric Skelton of SCAPCA, the agency that regulates the use and removal of asbestos containing materials in both commercial and residential properties, the Thompsons should have hired an asbestos abatement professional to survey the materials used in the roof prior to demolition. SCAPCA levied fines, the Thompsons protested, and the dispute ended up in litigation. Both parties say they reached a settlement last week.
"We've had such bad time that we've basically lost our will to continue the restoration," says Thompson with a sigh. "With the SCAPCA thing, we're just done - we're done with the city, we're done with the county. We decided enough is enough. We've fought too long and too hard, and it's just too draining, even just for the year that we've been here."
Despite the travails, Thompson still gets excited showing off the beautiful old home and sharing her ideas for restoring the interior spaces.
"There are 14 different kinds of wood in the building," she says. "Pocket doors, leaded glass, bottle glass... it could just be incredible. Picture redoing this hallway in Bradbury & amp; Bradbury wallpaper. Oh my God, your jaw would just drop."
When Steve Schmautz first thought about buying the American Legion Building and rehabilitating it, he faced some pointed questions from his most honest collaborator - his wife, Tresa. Lots of other developers with years of experience had turned down the chance to take a shot at the building, she said, so what made Schmautz think he could make a go of the project?
"I'd been looking at it for a couple of years before that," he says. "I came through several more times and talked to folks about what they thought could be done with it. Ultimately, I thought, it's a gorgeous building, the location was right, and the original look and design was good. I just felt like I could bring in my own crew and develop it -- probably save some money that way -- and make it work."
Anyone who has watched the building's transformation over the last two years can see that Schmautz indeed made the project work. The interior is almost entirely new, restored in a style that fits with the building's elegant Beaux Arts lines. But perhaps the most striking change is the reconstruction of the sixth and seventh floors and the steeply pitched mansard roof. After it was built in 1900 as the original Spokane Club, a major fire 10 years later destroyed the upper floors and truncated the building's skyward reach atop the fifth floor.
Schmautz says he wasn't sold on the idea of reconstructing the building's original roofline at the start of the project, mainly due to cost considerations. "I was looking at it, trying to visualize what it would turn into," he says. "And again my wife was the one who said you have to do it. Economically, I was weighing how much it would be to put it back together. But she was right."
Most observers would agree. The roof brings the building back into the balance envisioned by the original designers. Suddenly, the balconies and wrought iron railings on the fourth and fifth floors make sense.
Transoms and glass panels draw the daylight into the interior of the building, especially on the fourth floor, where Schmautz was able to salvage and restore much of the original woodwork, tile flooring and brass fixtures. Construction is complete in the common areas, like the lobbies, hallways, restrooms, elevators and stairwells; the rental units have been roughed in, and Schmautz will finish them according to the tenants' needs.
"Wendy Cassatt helped us tremendously with the interiors," he says. "The whole idea is to tie into the elegance of the building." Schmautz worked closely with Craig Woodard of Lindquist Architects, who worked on the renovation of the Davenport Hotel, and with local preservation consultant Linda Yeomans. "She really gave me a lot of comfort, knowing that we're taking the right path and knowing what to do. She did a terrific job. Teresa Brum and her office -- they were terrific. They problem-solve."
Schmautz talks a lot about the "feel" of the building, wanting to make a space where tenants would be comfortable and still feel a sense of pride. "I didn't want to compromise the project and the overall feel, but I wanted to take it to an extremely high level," he says. "I wanted people to come in and go, 'Wow, that's beautiful.' And I think we've been able to accomplish that."
AmericanWest Bank financed the project, says Schmautz. He's negotiating with several potential tenants now and he understands that it could take up to two years to fill the spaces. "I've been doing this long enough that I know, like the old phrase says, if you build it they will come. We knew if we did it and did it right, that it would work. And it will work."
A Technical Workshop on Using Historic Preservation Incentives will be conducted on Tuesday, May 11, from noon-2 pm. Cost: $10, including lunch. Register online at historicspokane.org or call 625-6983 by May 10.
Publication date: 04/29/04