Tony Ehrenberg had no trouble adjusting to the South Hill’s historic Lincoln Park neighborhood when he moved back to his childhood home two years ago.
Adjusting to his new bedroom, though, took time.
“It was like, ‘This is Mom and Dad’s room. What am I doing in here?”’ Ehrenberg recalls, half-kiddingly.
Actually, his parents live three blocks away. But for almost four decades, the Tudor-style residence at 2021 E. 17th was their home.
You can see why they stayed so long - and what made Ehrenberg eager to raise his own children there - during the eighth annual Mother’s Day Historic Neighborhood Tour.
Ehrenberg’s house - built in 1909 by architect Clarence Hubbell - is one of seven homes along the 1.5-mile route open for first-floor tours Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.
Tickets to the popular event, which cost $10 each, are available today at Cheney Cowles Museum, 2316 W. First, and Sunday after 11:30 a.m. at Franklin Elementary School, 2627 E. 17th, the tour headquarters.
Because on-street parking in the neighborhood is extremely limited, participants are encouraged to park away from the tour route and catch the free Spokane Transit Authority streetcars anywhere along 17th Avenue between the east 1700 and east 2600 blocks.
Tony Ehrenberg remembers 17th Avenue when it was less of a busy thoroughfare for cross-town commuters.
“Dad bought the house in 1958, when I was 9 years old,” he recounted last week as floor refinishers rushed to get the front entry ready for 2,000 visitors.
“Lincoln Park was incredible back then. During the summer, a high-school student worked there as park director. So every morning my mom would send us out the door, and we’d spend the whole day over there doing organized crafts, playing baseball, riding our bikes, just having a wonderful time.”
But another favorite hangout among neighborhood kids was Ehrenberg’s own house - a comfortable, five-bedroom, half-timbered residence flanked by two enormous basalt outcroppings.
“This was the playhouse,” he says. “We had a swing and a basketball court out front. In wintertime, we’d spray water on the court and play hockey. My mom would always have chocolate-chip cookies for everyone.”
His mother, Betty Lynn Ehrenberg, an enthusiastic gardener, devoted years to landscaping the home’s once-barren 150-by-150-foot grounds. Particularly showy were the perennials that cascaded down the basalt outcroppings. Neighbors and strangers alike still watch each spring for the annual eruption of color.
But to young Tony Ehrenberg, the outcroppings suggested a different charm.
“We used to hide behind them and throw snowballs at passing buses, because nobody would know where the snowballs were coming from,” he confesses. “Of course that didn’t last long - somebody called the police, and they came by and talked to my mom and dad.”
Ehrenberg moved out the day after he graduated from Gonzaga Prep (presumably it had nothing to do with the snowballs) and, except for holidays and birthdays, was gone for 26 years.
“But, in the back of my mind, I always felt someone in the family should own the house after Mom and Dad,” he says. “So I bought the house in 1976 with the idea that someday we’d come back here.”
Ehrenberg and his wife, Linda, who grew up in Coeur d’Alene, moved here from California in 1995. Their daughter was 11 at the time, and their son was 8 - “just about the same age when I first moved here,” Ehrenberg says.
After realizing his dream of returning, though, Ehrenberg says reality set in. “I was 27 when I bought house, and had no idea how much maintenance was needed. I didn’t pay any attention, because everything worked,” he says. “It’s really been surprising how much we’ve had to do.”
“It’s kind of a domino effect,” observes Linda. “When you do one thing, you uncover a whole lot of other things that need attention.”
“We figure it’s going to take another two years to do everything,” says Tony.
“Probably more like five,” Linda interjects. “Everything you do takes double, maybe triple what you expected.”
They started with their daughter’s bedroom, “because I knew she’d move out first,” says Linda. Since then, they’ve also finished a bathroom, the living room, and they intend to have the front entry ready by Sunday.
Still on the to-do list are replastering walls and ceilings, replacing modern light fixtures that don’t match the home’s original decor, and rewiring the house.
Outside, the Ehrenbergs have eliminated many of the trees and shrubs that gradually overwhelmed the yard during the past 40 years.
“It’s slowly becoming our house,” says Linda, “but sometimes when I want to change things, Tony says, ‘But it’s always been like that. Why would you want to change that?”’
Of course, some things will never change.
“Whenever Mom and Dad come here for dinner,” Tony says, “they sit at the same place they’ve always sat - he sits at one head of the table, and she sits at the other.”
And why not? After all, the table used to be theirs. “We traded dining tables,” Linda explains. “Theirs was bigger, so I gave them mine.”
No doubt the Ehrenbergs’ children have the normal kid things on their minds right now. (During a recent walk-through, a guest had to step over a basketball and soccer ball - and that was just between the dining room and kitchen.)
But Tony hopes they’ll look back fondly on the years they spent growing up in his childhood home, “and maybe one of them will want to keep the house after we’re gone.”
Other stops on Sunday’s Historic Neighborhood Tour include:
One door east is a Spanish Colonial-style residence built in 1936 for businessman Dean Leick and his wife, Gladys.
The home is distinguished by a low-pitched clay tile roof, white painted brick walls and an entry porch arcade.
The Spanish motif continues inside, with archways, wrought iron and stucco-like texturing of the walls.
The large Craftsman-style house at 1728 E. 17th was built in 1912 for merchant George McDonald and his wife, Josie.
Both the exterior and interior retain many original details, including rich oak woodwork, art glass, and an inglenook with built-in benches.
The English cottage-style house at 2443 E. 17th dates to 1929, and currently is undergoing extensive renovation.
Look for repeating archways, and recent additions - baseboard molding and kitchen cabinets - that complement the home’s original details.
The elaborate Swiss chalet-style residence at 1824 S. Mount Vernon was built in 1912 for $7,000.
The interior includes Craftsman-style woodwork, a large central fireplace and period lanterns.
Just around the corner at 2525 E. 19th is Wilbur House, designed by Gustav Pehrson and Kirtland Cutter and built in 1916 on a three-acre site.
The client - Ralston Wilbur - was a world-champion hammer thrower who had just married Sarah Smith, the very wealthy widow of the president of Hecla Mining Co. The marriage was short-lived, and a succession of occupants has lived in the home since.
Following years of neglect, recent owners rescued the home and renovated it to reflect the architects’ original intent.
Historical trivia: A guest cottage to the south was used by famous World War II pilot Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, a frequent visitor who would “dive-bomb” the house with his plane.
The Craftsman-style home at 1723 S. Cook is said to be built around a smaller farmhouse. Evidence of the older house can be seen in the butler’s pantry and kitchen.
Subsequent owners left their mark both inside and out - one resident, a flagman, installed several flag poles in the yard.
Franklin Elementary School, 2627 E. 17th, was built in 1909 when an older downtown school with the same name was demolished to make way for the Milwaukee Railroad.
Seventeenth Avenue was a dirt road at the time, and the new neighborhood - known as Altamont - was still sparsely populated.
The original building was a simple two-story brick structure with six classrooms, a library and principal’s office.
The student population gradually increased over the next 40 years, and in 1953 a single-story brick-and-glass annex was attached to the west end of the building.
Not open for tours but worth noting is the Neoclassical “cottage” at 2206 E. 17th built in 1914 for May and Levi Hutton. She was a mining camp cook, he a train engineer before they made a fortune from the Hurcules Mine in Burke, Idaho.
May Hutton went on to become an ardent suffragette. In 1912, she became the first woman delegate to a Democratic National Convention. She died in 1915.
Three years later, Levi Hutton, himself an orphan, created the still-thriving Hutton Settlement for displaced and orphaned children in the Spokane Valley.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (2 color) Map: Historic neighborhood tour
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