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Commission: YMCA ineligible for historic listing

Thu., Dec. 16, 2010

The former YMCA in Riverfront Park is headed for a date with the wrecking ball.

The Spokane City-County Historic Landmarks Commission voted 9-0 on Wednesday that the building is not eligible for historic registries, clearing the way for the city’s Park Department to demolish the building.

“This was our biggest hurdle that we needed to overcome,” Park Director Leroy Eadie said after the meeting.

The decision likely ends five years of intense debate about the future of the old Y, which was built in the mid-1960s. Eadie said the department expects to start tearing it down in February. The city paid $5.3 million for the building and land and plans to return the property to a natural condition. Most of the cost will be covered by Spokane County’s Conservation Futures program.

Because the structure is less than 50 years old, national guidelines say it would have had to be considered “exceptional” to qualify. Developer Ron Wells argued earlier this year that the building likely was eligible because of its connection with the YMCA and its use as the headquarters to Expo ’74. He also said it was a great example of mid-20th century architecture.

But commissioners rejected those arguments and said there are better examples in Spokane of mid-century buildings, including Avista’s headquarters.

“I wouldn’t call it a good piece of architecture,” said Commissioner Jim Kolva.

Kelly Cruz, a resident of West Central Spokane, testified that the YMCA played a prominent role in Expo ’74 and was a defining part of the scenery.

“Is the Park Board so ashamed of Expo that they would want to get rid of one of its few remaining landmarks?”

Park officials, however, argue that the far-more-defining element from the World’s Fair is the U.S. Pavilion, which still stands.

Spokane’s Historic Preservation Officer Kristen Griffin said most of the Expo activities in the Y were administrative and “were confined to one floor.”

“That location was not a defining or memorable part of Expo ’74,” Griffin told the commission.

In a separate decision, the commission delayed action on a vote to determine if an adjacent building that once housed the city’s fire dispatch center should be declared eligible for historic registries.

The structure, built along Spokane Falls in the early 1920s by Washington Water Power (now Avista), was originally used to store batteries, said Gerry Gemmill, Spokane’s deputy public works and utilities director. It later was obtained by the city and used for dispatching fire crews.

The city still has some working communication equipment in the building, but no employees are housed there and it’s mostly vacant, Gemmill said.

“We have no use for it,” Gemmill said. He said with the Y scheduled for removal, it would make sense to tear down the old dispatch building at the same time.

Commissioners said that too many details about the building’s use and history had not been presented to them and that its connection with the dam and the falls could make the building eligible.

The structure is “kind of an ugly duckling in a way,” Kolva said. “Not all buildings that are historically important are pretty buildings.”

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