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Building spared despite location

City Planner Allen Schmelzer, right, and city housing planner Bruce Ainslie inspect the Cecil Apartments  on East Third Avenue. The building is in the way of the I-90 expansion, but it has been declared historic.
City Planner Allen Schmelzer, right, and city housing planner Bruce Ainslie inspect the Cecil Apartments on East Third Avenue. The building is in the way of the I-90 expansion, but it has been declared historic.

City plans to renovate century-old apartments ahead of move

From the inside, the Cecil Apartments may not seem worth saving.

The vacant building, which turns 100 this year, is in the path of a proposed expansion of Interstate 90 as part of the North Spokane Corridor project. Its ceilings are cracked and caving. The walls are coated with lead paint and filled with asbestos.

But neighborhood leaders say that the original red brick exterior provides an important link to East Central Spokane’s past – especially as another freeway project causes hundreds of old homes to be demolished. They also say that except for an addition on the back, the masonry and structure are in good condition.

“It’s an authentic piece of Spokane history,” said Kristen Griffin, Spokane’s historic preservation officer. “It represents a time and place and knowledge of how to construct a building like this.”

The Spokane City Council recently voted unanimously to add the Cecil Apartments – originally called the Rose Apartments and located at 1726 E. Third Ave. – to the city’s historic registry.

Griffin said the colonial revival building that has “Italianate influences” may be the only apartment built in the neighborhood from the era of the city’s largest building boom, from 1900 to 1910. Most of East Central is filled with single-family homes.

The city’s Community Development Department bought the building, which had been foreclosed upon, at an auction in December for about $90,000 with federal Housing and Urban Development money, said Paul Trautman, the Community Development Department’s housing program administrator. In the coming months, the city will use a federal stimulus grant to gut the eight apartments inside. It hopes to reopen the structure for low-income families even before the state buys the land for the freeway in the next few years.

Then comes the hard part: Lifting the building up and moving it to vacant land the Community Development Department owns a block away.

Before bidding on the building, the city learned that the apartment complex is sound enough to be moved and received a bid of $260,000 for the work.

“That was one of the ‘Do not pass go’ questions,” Trautman said.

Contractors told the city, however, that the building can’t be moved until the houses on each side are torn down. That’s why officials decided to renovate the structure before moving it, Trautman said.

The Department of Transportation plans to buy the building and a strip of homes south of I-90 within the next few years. At that time, the city will work to buy it back from the state. The state has agreed to help pay for moving the structure.

Trautman said the city bought the building early partly to prevent further deterioration. The department was one of about a dozen bidders on the property but was the only potential owner interested in saving it. The rest were waiting to be bought out by the state, Trautman said.

The East Central Community Organization Community Development Corp. plans to buy the Cecil from the city once it is moved and operate it. ECCO led the effort to build Friendship Gardens, new affordable apartments for seniors across the street from the East Central Community Center.

Chris Venne, ECCO’s chairman, said it’s worth the expense of saving the building to help maintain the character of the neighborhood. He said affordable housing advocates should focus on rehabilitating older buildings and constructing new ones.

“It’s not either-or,” he said. “We need to do both.”

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