October 5, 2009 in City

Downtown Spokane post office marks 100 years

By The Spokesman-Review
Colin Mulvany photo

The U.S. post office building at Riverside Avenue and Lincoln Street opened on Oct. 4, 1909, and a pair of centennial events today and Tuesday will recognize its history and fine classical architecture.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

Two events mark 100 years at the downtown Spokane post office, 904 W. Riverside Ave.

Today: Public ceremony, 1 p.m. in the building’s historic courtroom.

Tuesday: Tour and talk hosted by Spokane Preservation Advocates, 5:30 p.m.

The U.S. post office building in downtown Spokane opened on Oct. 4, 1909, at the height of the city’s explosive population growth in the early 20th century. The architectural jewel combines the classical look of a Greek temple with modern flourishes of the period.

Federal officials said they couldn’t let the building’s centennial pass without a ceremony.

At 1 p.m. today, the public is invited to join government workers and dignitaries in a lavishly adorned courtroom on the building’s third floor for an event that will include short speeches, tours and commemorative post cards.

“It’s a big event for us,” said Ross Buffington, spokesman for the General Services Administration, which manages the building.

On Tuesday at 5:30 p.m., members of the Spokane Preservation Advocates will gather for a tour and a talk by a federal historian on the significance of the building at 904 W. Riverside Ave. The public is invited.

“I’m very curious to see it,” said Suzanne Schreiner, an SPA member.

In the years after it opened, the post office was the country’s most important means of communication. In those days, as many as 2,600 customers would walk through its doors during evening hours.

A fair amount of the original interior remains intact, although today’s Postal Service operates only two public counter windows compared with more than a dozen in the early 1900s.

According to the historic nomination, city leaders had been arguing for a post office and federal building as early as 1902 when the city’s population was soaring past 50,000 on its way to 125,000 by 1920. It was the first major work of federal architecture in the Inland Northwest.

President William Taft visited the building just prior to its opening and praised its “simplicity, beauty and solidity,” according to federal officials.

Designed by James Knox Taylor of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the building reflects the prevailing design ideals of the time, with a combination of Beaux Arts classicism and Second Renaissance Revival influence.

The Renaissance element is seen on the south-facing entry arches as well as window arches along the sides. The Beaux Arts design is shown on the second and third floors, where classical columns frame the south façade’s window recesses.

Indiana limestone adorns the exterior on top of Little Spokane River granite. The limestone comes from the same source used in the Lincoln Memorial and Empire State Building, according to a historic survey compiled in 1981.

The interior has white Alaskan marble walls with green veining, along with fine quarter-sawn oak panels, window frames, trim and doors.

“It’s a pretty high finish for the time,” said Rebecca Nielsen, historic preservation specialist for the GSA, and it is among the best of nearly two dozen historic federal buildings in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

An addition on the north side was completed in 1941 to match the original architecture. In 1983, the building was approved for the National Register of Historic Places. A $7.7 million restoration was finished in 1993.

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