by Ann M. Colford
Most residents of the Inland Northwest know about architect Kirtland Cutter, whose designs set the standard for Spokane buildings after the Great Fire of 1889. The Davenport Hotel, the Campbell House and Patsy Clark's former home in Browne's Addition all testify to Cutter's skill and vision. Later in his career, he designed several buildings in Seattle and California, where he made his home for his final years.
But Cutter was not the only architect to make a mark on the built environment of the Northwest. The Spokane skyline holds several landmarks as prominent as the Davenport Hotel, but their designers somehow have not achieved Cutter's public acclaim.
Take, for example, the Cathedral of St. John and its architect, Harold C. Whitehouse. His story was told by biographer and architectural historian Sally Byrne Woodbridge in her 1981 book, Building Through Time: The Life of Harold C. Whitehouse, 1884-1974.
Like Cutter, Whitehouse was an Easterner by birth, although he arrived in Spokane a generation later in 1907. He worked as a draftsman in Boston prior to coming west and formed a partnership with George Keith here in 1908. As he settled into the community, the young designer joined the congregation of All Saints Episcopal Church, an association that would later lead to his grandest commission. In 1911, Whitehouse traveled east to study architecture at Cornell, returning to Spokane two years later. He then joined with another Cornell grad, Ernest V. Price, to form Whitehouse and Price. In its early years, the firm designed the buildings of the Hutton Settlement along the river just east of Spokane.
With the arrival in 1923 of a new Episcopal bishop, the dream of a new cathedral gathered momentum within the diocese. Church member Whitehouse traveled to Europe that same year to study the grand Gothic churches and monuments there. The diocese acquired the hilltop property in 1924, and Whitehouse began sketching plans for the neo-Gothic masonry building.
Construction began in 1925 and came to a halt four years later. At that time, the nave was complete from the west entrance to the transept crossing. Workers set up temporary wooden walls to close in the building, and the new congregation held its first services on October 20, 1929. Further progress on the building would have to wait nearly 20 years, following the Great Depression and World War II.
In the meantime, Whitehouse continued to design civic and religious buildings throughout the Northwest. In 1930, he laid out the Chamber of Commerce Building -- current home of The Inlander -- to fit in with the curving section of Riverside Avenue that was designed according to the Olmsted Brothers' master plan of 1904 for the city. Several homes along Sumner Avenue bear his signature, as do more than 650 buildings of the Farragut Naval Training Station on Lake Pend Oreille and several buildings on the Whitworth College campus. During this time, he also served as president of the Spokane Art Association, and later was on the board of the Spokane Art Center.
After the war, in 1948, Spokane's Episcopal diocese restarted construction at the Cathedral. The nave was completed in 1952, but work continued on the transepts, the tower and the interior furnishings for the rest of the decade. Work on the south transept ended in 1960, and the 1961 installation of the organ brought the building to completion. The building's final piece -- the carillon -- was installed in the tower in 1971, just three years before Whitehouse's death.
Despite his fondness for the classical and Gothic styles of his ecclesiastical designs, Whitehouse kept up with trends in architecture. One of his latest major buildings was the Lincoln Building, erected in 1963 at the corner of Lincoln and Riverside. With its smooth modern concrete and glass exterior, the Lincoln Building was a far cry from Whitehouse's earlier ornate designs. But even though it followed the conventions of the streamlined style then in vogue, the Lincoln, with its reflecting pool and sculpture plaza, brought art and aesthetics to street level.
Throughout his career, Whitehouse and his firm designed about 80 churches in the Northwest. He became known as an expert on symbolism and heraldry, and lectured extensively on church architecture and ornamentation. After his death here in 1974, his family donated his papers, including the original drawings for the Cathedral of St. John, to the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, where they remain.
So why is Harold Whitehouse not a household name like Kirtland Cutter? Perhaps it's a question of timing. Cutter came to Spokane in time to help the city rebuild from the fire of 1889, so his commercial buildings earned immediate prominence. He also designed homes for many of the city's founding citizens during Spokane's golden years at the turn of the last century, when fortunes were made from the region's railroads and mines. The historical impact of his clients assured the significance of his work. By contrast, Whitehouse's prime working years coincided with the worst economic downturn and the largest war in the nation's history, and he was known at the time primarily as a designer of churches. Despite his own anonymity, though, Harold Whitehouse's vision of Spokane's landmark church on a hill lives on.