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Endangered Spaces 

by Ann M. Colford

Spokane's downtown Rookery block is still threatened by the wrecking ball, but at least the three historic buildings on the block are now officially recognized as both significant and endangered. Late in June, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation placed the property -- including the Rookery (1933), Mohawk (1915) and Merton (1890) buildings on the block bordered by Riverside, Howard, Sprague and Stevens -- on its "Ten Most Endangered Properties" list for 2003. And the Spokane City/County Historic Preservation Office completed the National Register nominations for the buildings, resulting in a ruling that all three buildings are eligible for National Register listing. While neither step can prevent current owner Wendell Reugh from demolishing the buildings, preservation advocates hope the public recognition will encourage a new owner to rehabilitate the block.

"The State Advisory Council [on Historic Preservation] determined that the buildings are eligible [for the National Register], although the owner opposed the listing," says Teresa Brum, Spokane's Historic Preservation Officer. If the buildings are sold, she says, new owners could pursue the National Register listings easily and receive the tax incentives for rehabilitation. Brum says she continues to work with other city departments to pull together additional incentives for potential buyers.

Reugh's local property manager, Steve Gill, who wasn't aware of the Ten Most Endangered Properties list before the Rookery block appeared on it, says the designation doesn't change the company's plans for the buildings.

"We still want to see someone buy it and rehab it," he states. Reugh and local developer Ron Wells failed to reach agreement on a deal for Wells to buy the buildings, but Reugh is still in negotiations with a developer from California, says Gill. "We were bitterly disappointed that we couldn't conclude the transaction with Ron Wells. We're still working on a transaction [with the other developer], so we have no immediate plans for demolition."

Plans to convert the decaying spaces into surface-level parking were announced earlier this year, which energized downtown advocates to find a way to save the buildings.

The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation first compiled its statewide list of the Ten Most Endangered Properties about a decade ago, following the lead of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; starting this year, the Washington group will announce a new list annually. Two other Eastern Washington properties on the list are the Five Mile Schoolhouse near Mead and the former Ritzville High School. Executive Director Lisbeth Henning says the list raises awareness of historic properties around the state.

"Truly, the purpose [of the list] is to bring attention to properties that are endangered," she says. "Often, people in the community don't know a building is endangered and that the clock is ticking. Placing a property on the list transmits that sense of urgency."

Henning says nominated properties are evaluated for historic and architectural significance, for the immediacy of the threat and for the level of local support. The Spokane Preservation Advocates, a local nonprofit advocacy group, nominated the three buildings. Inclusion on the list is no guarantee that a building will be saved, but Henning hopes it improves the odds.

"We certainly haven't saved them all, but in many cases the raised awareness caused public support for a property to coalesce," she says. "Local advocates also say that the listing helps them leverage fund raising."

Publication date: 07/31/03
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