by Mike Corrigan

It's been a long, glorious and frequently turbulent journey through time for Spokane's venerable Lewis and Clark High School. This weekend, District 81 officials will cap the school's two-year renovation and expansion project by rededicating the city's oldest high school to future generations of students and faculty.

Last week, members of the Inlander editorial staff (including myself and more than one LC grad) were treated to a preview tour of the school conducted by Ned Hammond, District 81's director of capital projects and planning, along with Mark Anderson, associate superintendent of management services.

"This is Ned's baby," says Anderson motioning to his colleague standing on the school's front steps. "He went here, so he has a personal connection."

True enough. Though Hammond appears to be all business, it's apparent from the excitement in his voice that the restoration of his high school alma mater is, for him, a very personal matter.

"This is the last of all of our projects from the 1998 bond issue which was spread out citywide," Hammond says with tangible pride. "It's our centerpiece."

In fact, Lewis and Clark has been the city's educational centerpiece for a very long time. In 1883, a small wooden structure called Central School occupied the corner of 4th and Stevens. In 1890, that building was moved to make way for a large stone-and-brick structure known as Spokane High School. When North Central was established in 1908, Spokane High School's name was changed to South Central. Two years later, South Central was consumed by fire.

The current building was erected in 1911. The cornerstone of the grand Tudor-Gothic structure -- visible at the northwest corner of the school -- was laid by then ex-president Teddy Roosevelt amid considerable fanfare (actually, Roosevelt merely patted the stone during a brief ceremony). When the new school opened its doors in April, 1912, it bore the names of the famous Western explorers.

Lewis and Clark High immediately became a source of civic pride and went on to serve generations of kids and their families. Meanwhile, Spokane grew up around the school, hemming it in and restricting its potential for growth. The construction of Interstate 90 in the late-1960s cut LC off from downtown and obscured its facade.

As early as the 1970s, the district began looking to replace the school, citing inadequate structure, location and student services as reasons. In the mid-'80s, district planners were considering both renovation and relocation as viable remedies. But when a district committee in 1987 recommended that the school be rebuilt at Hart Field near 37th Ave., LC boosters and historical preservationists reacted with outrage. The movement to save the school from the wrecking ball was galvanized.

The district found itself in a tight spot, charged with the dual responsibilities of preserving a beloved, historically significant structure while coming up with functional and fiscally responsible solutions to the school's many problems. Those problems included -- but were by no means limited to -- leaky plumbing, a dilapidated heating and cooling system, inadequate science and sporting facilities and noise pollution from the nearby freeway. When further studies concluded that the Hart Field site was of inadequate size to house a new high school, the plan calling for the renovation of the old school emerged as the most cost-effective option available to the district. In 1998, Spokane voters approved a $74.5 million bond issue that provided the majority of the funds necessary to fund the renovation ($27 million plus $13 million in state funds). Hammond and his team of planners and contractors received the green light.

Still, during the restoration of LC, the district faced formidable hurdles, not the least of which came from local historic preservation groups alarmed by many of the proposals in the plan. One of the most heated disagreements concerned the fate of the high school's administration building (known also as the Annex), a historically significant structure positioned along Stevens, just east of the main building.

The Annex was built in 1908. It was spared in the 1910 fire that claimed the South Central school building and stood silently by as the new Lewis and Clark High School was being constructed.

In September, 1998, the school board, after studying the feasibility of saving and reusing the structure, voted to demolish the Annex and replace it with new construction. Local preservation groups, including members of the Spokane Preservation Advocates, the Spokane City Landmarks Commission and the Save the Annex Project, strongly opposed the demolition. Ultimately, the school board's decision held.

"There was a lot of passion involved in that discussion, very definitely," admits Hammond. "What the design team, working with staff, tried to do was really make the Annex work. It became obvious after they had worked on it for about a month that there just wasn't enough usable space within that facility. It just wasn't practical."

As a concession, the district called for the classical arch over the annex entry and a portion of the original brickwork to be retained, so that the building might be commemorated with an arch on the grounds of the remodeled campus.

"It wasn't part of our original 19-point plan for historic character-defining elements," says Anderson. "But we ended up taking the front of the administration Annex off piece by piece and then reconstructing it and the arch."

The reconstructed arch stands near the site of the original structure and will bear a plaque relating the story of the Annex, so that the building's link to LC's early roots will remain an enduring part of the school's rich legacy.

"We wanted to preserve the historical characteristics while at the same time offer a modern educational facility to support modern educational activities," Hammond says. "I think we did a very good job of retaining those characteristics, while at the same time providing a good, modern facility. Working with the Landmarks Commission and Historical Society people, we identified 19 characteristics that we wanted to try to maintain and enhance."

Briefly, the 19 characteristics of the district's plan included cleaning, restoring, and reconditioning or replacing various aspects of the exterior, interior and fixtures. Specific areas targeted by the plan included the exterior masonry, foundation and retaining wall, steps, windows, doors, staircases, wood floors, interior casework and trim, bathrooms and the school's magnificent auditorium. The plan also called for the restoration and exhibition of LC's extensive art collection.

When students return to school this fall, the first thing they'll notice is the old building's clean and bright exterior.

"All of the terra cotta and brick has been cleaned and restored. We tried the dilute acid wash on the back, and we didn't see a lot of change. But when we came around and tried it on the front, it was just like the difference between black and white because of all of the road tar on the front from the freeway. It was thick."

The old windows have been replaced with modern low-maintenance sills sporting insulating (and noise-proofing) double-paned glass, a compromise between historical accuracy and practicality.

"We wanted to have the appearance of the historic windows but have low maintenance," explains Hammond. "So we replaced the windows with steel clad on the outside -- very low maintenance -- while on the inside, they're wood. And they match the original woodwork around the windows."

The marble steps leading into the main entry hall had been "dished out" -- worn by decades of foot traffic. The restoration team removed the steps, turned them over, regrooved the front section, filled the holes and put them back down. They now appear brand-new.

As you walk in the main entrance, your eyes jump to the beautiful plaster frieze on the far wall featuring human forms and classical themes -- the largest of 17 throughout the school that have been completely restored.

"In many cases, we would find a finger or a horse's leg or a hand that was totally missing," Hammond says of the time-damaged friezes. "Well, our contractor recreated each item and then put them back up. He did a tremendous job. This was done by a drywall contractor who became so wrapped up in this project, he really became an artist."

The halls today are wide and bright. Most of the classrooms have had the original wood floors restored. And even though it no longer leads all the way to the ground level, the open stairwell still connects the top three floors.

Even in the new additions, the old feel has been carried over -- into the trim, for example, and in the woodwork around the windows. Externally, the new building is compatible and complementary -- a modern reflection, not a duplication of the older structure. The entire school has been thoroughly modernized with a new science and technology lab, library, cafeteria, gigantic fieldhouse, underground faculty parking and fiber-optic lines running through every room.

But perhaps nowhere is the personal ambition of Hammond and his crew more evident than in the school's spectacularly restored auditorium. The first thing our LC grads noticed was how bright the place was due to all the natural light pouring in from the two-and-a-half-story windows -- windows they'd never even noticed before.

"The windows are original," says Hammond. "But you never saw them because in 1941 they were covered up with plywood, as were skylights in the building, because of World War II. This room was so dark that you couldn't read in it."

The original auditorium seats feature new upholstery, and the school's famous pipe organ is being restored. Above the stage's ornate proscenium arch is a plaster cartouche bearing the school letters in gold.

"That came from the original proscenium arch that was behind the present one," Hammond explains. "The original stage was very shallow, and in the early '20s they made a new proscenium arch where this one is now, but they did it in art deco style. We went back to the original gothic style and redesigned the proscenium arch. We found the original cartouche in the fly loft, restored it and put it here on top."

Clearly, the restoration of LC is a singular obsession for these folks -- from Hammond (who spends most of his time on-site directing traffic), to Anderson, to the guy cutting wood trim with a table saw in the school's main hallway. Here within these hallowed halls of learning, anything less than perfection is unthinkable. And by their efforts, the proud tradition of LC as one of Spokane's premier public learning institutions continues into another century.

"We've had some real quality subcontractors working on this project, and they've really become emotionally involved with the building," says Hammond. "They've just really gone that extra step to make sure things were right."

Spokane River Clean-Up @ Spokane

Sat., Sept. 18, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
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