by Lisa Leinberger

Mother's Day is fast approaching, and you might still be thinking about what to do for that special mom in your life. Well, you might want to burn off that brunch with a walking tour of one of Spokane's oldest neighborhoods.

Sponsored by the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, the 12th Annual Mother's Day Historic House Tour features six homes built during the early 20th century.

All located in the tree-lined South Altamont neighborhood, which began to flourish in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, the homes are examples of the craftsman bungalow style, featuring low-hanging eaves and wide porches. The homes were usually a story to a story-and-a-half, and had varying exterior surfaces. It was a very simple style of architecture that sprung up in response to the elaborate Victorian-style homes at the time.

"I love that style," says Marsha Rooney, the museum's curator of history.

Although the homes are featured in the tour, the neighborhood as a whole is the star of the show. Visitors will receive a booklet that explains some of the origins of the neighborhood and points of interest of the tour. Native American tribes used what is now Southeast Boulevard as a trail and hunted in the area; shops and markets sprouted along Perry Street, and homes that are not featured in the tour are pointed out for their own architectural features.

The tour has come a long way in its 12-year history. Rooney says that the first time the museum sponsored the tour, people swore it would be the last.

That first tour was of one house that was being renovated at the time and was completely bare, but people liked the idea.

Since then, the tour has featured entire neighborhoods such as Millwood and Browne's Addition, as well as buildings and homes built by Kirtland Cutter.

Rooney says that in the future she would like to see the tour go to neighborhoods outside the city limits or maybe feature homes that were built in the 1950s and '60s.

Today, the tour is a very popular one. Rooney estimates that about 2,000 visitors go through each year. That being the case, the museum encourages the public to buy their tickets early.

"I really love seeing the public learn and enjoy the opportunity to appreciate the history of the neighborhood," she says.

The tour relies heavily on about 200 volunteers to ensure everything is smoothly run. In fact, the Historic Preservation Committee -- all volunteers -- chooses the neighborhood and the style of architecture.

"They are incredible people," says Rooney of the work the volunteers do.

The committee also approaches families that might want to include their homes on the tour, which isn't as difficult as one might think.

"When they make those decisions, they go to families who are interested," says Yvonne Lopez Morton, marketing/public relations coordinator of the museum. "We've been very fortunate in having the community come through."

In response to that, coordinators try to take care of those homeowners by only showing the first floors of the homes, setting up walkways and handing out booties to cover the visitor's shoes.

They also supply parking at Grant Elementary School, and an STA trolley to transport the visitors. As well as being an informative and entertaining experience, all of the proceeds of the tour go to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

"I just like seeing the interiors and getting a feel for who lives there, and the details of the home," says Morton. "I like just looking at the details of the rooms and being able to identify certain elements."

And while the neighborhood tour is billed as a Mother's Day event, all are welcome. "It's a wonderful way to spend Mother's Day," she says. "You see a lot of couples doing this, so there are both men and women on the tour. You can take a piece of history with you. It's a pretty cheap date."

The Historic House Tour is from noon-4 pm, Saturday, May 12, and Sunday, May 13. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the first home on the tour (1132 E. Altamont) or at the Museum offices (1020 W. Riverside). Parking is at Grant Elementary at Ninth and Perry, with free STA streetcar service to the tour neighborhood. Call: 456-3931.

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