Business

Neighborhood niche

After years of painstakingly restoring the E.J. Roberts’ Mansion in Browne’s Addition, Mary Moltke may soon reap a tangible return on her sweat equity.

“I’ve basically done a room a year for the last 24 years,” said Moltke, who recently received official city approval to host special events at the mansion and to open a restaurant in an adjacent historic house that’s across from the Elk Public House, at Pacific Avenue and Cannon Street.

The eatery will seat up to 32 people inside and 50 outside, she said, and may serve specialties offered at the 118-year-old E.J. Roberts’ bed and breakfast.

“We know what people like in terms of scones, petit-fours and that type of thing.”

Greg Smith, hearing examiner for Spokane, recently approved her request after weighing benefits of preserving the Queen Anne Victorian with concerns expressed by some neighbors regarding potential noise, parking and traffic issues.

In the report, Smith noted that Moltke pays $42,000 in annual expenses and that expanding the business would enable her to continue preserving the mansion while opening it to more of the public. The decision allows for events with up to 130 guests as long people are gone by 10 p.m. and the mansion uses off-site parking, secured from a nearby office and the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

She is also allowed to use the mansion’s garden for events and outdoor restaurant seating.

Built for Bernhard Lowenberg, the house was traded to Edward Jerome Roberts, a civil engineer, when Lowenberg’s dry goods store burned down.

Roberts, who went on to become president of Spokane’s Union Iron Works, lived in the home with his wife, five sons and daughter. Daughter Marian then lived in the house until she died in 1959.

Moltke grew up in a family that owned rentals and renovated properties, and she did much of the mansion’s restoration work herself. While she declined to say how much she’s spent, the bed and breakfast owner admits renovation costs far exceeded the $119,000 she paid for the property 26 years ago.

Over the years, Moltke uncovered traces of Roberts family history, including a safe that’s hidden behind what looks like a cupboard and bottles of turn-of-the-century liquor, hidden in the downstairs poolroom.

Three of Roberts’ grandsons, now in their 80s and 90s, reside in the area and provided information that helped make for a more authentic restoration.

The mansion was featured twice in Victorian Homes magazine and appeared on HGTV’s “If Walls Could Talk,” two years ago. PBS television’s “Antiques Roadshow” recently filmed a segment at E.J. Roberts’ while in Spokane.

The mansion has eight bedrooms, four of which are used for the bed and breakfast, and a downstairs billiards parlor. Bed and breakfast rooms rent for $120 to $160, and daylong facility rental, with tables, linens and centerpieces, costs $5,000. Moltke hopes the expanded business plan will preserve the mansion for the future.

“I think that the restaurant at the corner of Cannon and Pacific should be helpful in providing income for the whole overall complex.”



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