Diana Ellison spent $4,000 this year remodeling one of Spokane’s quirkier landmarks.
She turned the historic 1920s windmill on Sourth Perry Street into a gift shop with scented candles and handcrafted angels.
As buildings go, the windmill stands as a curious ornament adorning the aging business strip near Grant Elementary School.
The South Perry district looks a little tattered, but behind the fading paint and mix-matched buildings is a richness found in few places.
“It’s a cool area,” said Bob Barros, a notable photographer who two years ago bought and fixed up an old brick building at 11th and Perry for his business. Barros said he enjoys watching kids play in Grant Park behind his building, and the older folks who come and go throughout the day.
Barros and other owners are eager to bring vitality back to the area, which is at the heart of one of the most ethnically and economically diverse places in the city.
“There really is a neighborhood here,” said Geri Osmonson, a stylist at Jackie Hurley’s hair shop.
The commercial area runs from Liberty Park Florist on Eighth to the dental office on 12th and contains a collection of businesses that give the district its distinct personality.
This area doesn’t rival the vitality of the North Side’s Garland District.
It’s more a Rodney Dangerfield of retail areas. It doesn’t get a lot of respect but is beloved in its own way.
Many businesses have come and gone, and some unusual characters have called the area home over the years.
Longtime residents recall Little Eddie, a developmentally disabled man who in the 1950s rode his three-wheeled bike up and down the strip while dressed in a full Roy Rogers outfit.
Then there was Mrs. Nehammer, who owned the old ice cream store at Ninth and Perry and let her big fluffy orange cat sleep in the front window. But she had a stern demeanor that scared some of her younger customers.
For years, the district was home to a small branch city library.
Like a lot of the locations, the windmill building has had its share of proprietors. In past years, it has housed a barber shop, an ice cream store, an interior decorator and a restaurant, to name a few.
Part of the problem is size. The windmill attracts attention, but the store is so small inside it’s difficult to display much merchandise.
Ellison, who calls her shop Windmills & Whatnots, said she is struggling but so far getting by. Like many other retailers, she is counting on the holiday season to boost sales and carry her through the year.
She is not the only one who has struggled on the strip. A manicure nail shop and video store closed recently.
A few other stores spaces are vacant. Some, like the Hip Hop Stop record store, survive by filling a special niche.
Owners say doing business on South Perry requires special patience. Petty crime troubles the area, as it does many older parts of the city.
A woodshop owner recently boarded his windows because of repeated vandalism.
Barros found the side of his building sprayed with graffiti. He cleaned up the vandalism, but faint remnants of the scrawlings are still visible.
City officials said the crime problem in the neighborhood is no worse than in other parts of Spokane.
“I think it’s as safe as anyplace else,” said Doug Anstine, president of the COPS East Central organization, which keeps an eye on the South Perry district.
Police crime statistics indicate that the number of thefts and burglaries in the East Central area is lower than some other older neighborhoods.
Barros and his wife, Gail, run their photography business out of the building that once served as a neighborhood grocery.
They moved to Perry Street from the East Sprague area two years ago, partly because of its proximity to downtown, but also because they could afford to buy and remodel the building.
The Barroses are eager to see the neighborhood succeed.
“We want people to drive through the Perry District and have a good feeling,” Gail Barros said.
“If the whole neighborhood goes to pot, our investment goes to pot.”
Neighborhood resident Lisa Knight said Barros’ building was once the most rundown structure on the strip, and the renovation has stimulated upgrades by other owners.
“It’s looking a lot better,” Knight said.
Like some of the business owners, Knight envisions a good future along South Perry.
“I think it has the potential to be like one of the little neighborhood districts in Seattle,” she said.
Cafes like Gertrude’s Black Forest Deli near Grant School are gathering spots where neighbors socialize.
Grant Principal Steven Indgjerd said the deli has served as a meeting place for his teachers who needed to get away from the school to discuss plans or projects.
He said the school and business owners get along well. The businesses frequently help out with donations to the school for the carnival and other activities.
Underlining the ethnic diversity of the neighborhood, 80 of Grant School’s 570 students speak English as their second language, Indgjerd said.
Chris Hugo, a city planner, said commercial strips like South Perry are important assets to the life and health of the residential sections of the inner city.
For example, having shops people can walk to is important for low-income residents who don’t have cars, he said.
In some cities, such as Seattle, older commercial districts have seen a revival with the influx of younger residents.
On the North Side, Garland Avenue and Market Street in Hillyard are areas that show signs of economic health.
“I think it’s real important to preserve these areas,” said Hugo.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WINDMILL BUILDING ONE OF THREE LEFT The windmill building on South Perry Street is one of three remaining structures from the family-owned business of brothers J. Robert and Cecil M. Cambern. The Camberns, of Colbert, built 13 windmill stores across Spokane County in the late 1920s to market dairy and baked goods. Only three of the 13 remain today, including the one on South Perry, one on West First in Browne’s Addition, and one in the Spokane Valley. The South Perry building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Preservationists say it’s a classic example of the kind of novelty commercial architecture that was popular during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The milk bottle buildings at Garland and Lincoln and at Fourth and Cedar downtown are other examples. The windmills were designed by Charles Wood, an architect who once had worked for famed Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter. According to the historic registry nomination, the South Perry windmill “whimsically enlists architecture in the cause of commercial promotion. “Symbols of Dutch culture, including windmills and Dutch girls, were used in all the shops’ advertisements,” the nomination added. Novelty commercial architecture emerged in the 1920s as the automobile culture started to take hold. The Cambern business failed during the Great Depression. By 1943, most of the windmills had been torn down. Mike Prager