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Vintage restoration

Cliff House owners say their goal is ‘to make it look and feel like it was’

Arbor Crest Wine Cellars plans to continue its summer concerts and weddings this year while its damaged Cliff House undergoes restoration after a Dec. 23 fire.

Jim van Loben Sels, general manager of the winery, said the insured loss could exceed $600,000.

The 1924 landmark, perched on a bluff overlooking the Spokane River, will be cordoned off during the house’s seven- to nine-month-long rehabilitation. Work could begin as early as March.

“Our goal is to make it look and feel like it was,” van Loben Sels said. “It’s so unique, we want it to stay the same.”

Concerts and weddings will be moved to a lawn above a small vineyard on a nearby west-facing slope. Temporary tents will provide cover from the weather.

The winery’s tasting room, in a separate building, remains open on the scenic grounds at 4705 N. Fruithill Road, which overlooks Spokane Valley.

Van Loben Sels said he, his family and the staff have received an outpouring of concern from customers and the public since the fire.

“Fortunately, we have great family support and we have a great community to be in,” he said.

The fire inside the 86-year-old Italianate/Mission-style mansion – sometimes described as Florentine in style – started before dawn Dec. 23 in an electrical power strip on the first floor and burned upward into the second and third floors.

The fire, visible for miles, was reported to authorities by two people who spotted it from the valley below.

Damage was extensive to the floors, doors, window frames and interior walls, as well as a staircase, the kitchen and the sun porch. The building also received considerable water damage.

Loss of contents, including a family collection of antiques, is valued at more than $100,000.

The heavy rock-and-timber construction withstood the flames, along with the exterior walls.

Van Loben Sels credited firefighters, working in frigid weather, with saving the structure.

“The firefighters, for the most part, are basically our heroes,” he said.

He and others in the family-owned winery are working with architect John McLean of Blue Room Design Studio of Spokane to develop reconstruction plans.

The new interior design should provide additional space for small-group events, van Loben Sels said.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department, Travelers insurance and a local water district are part of the discussions.

The mansion was built by Royal Riblet, whose brother, engineer Byron Christian Riblet, started what became the Riblet Tramway Co. in 1896. The company is still based in Spokane.

The building and grounds were purchased for the winery in the mid-1980s, restored and listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places through brothers David and Harold Mielke.

The Spokane register identifies the house as Riblet Mansion, although it’s known through the winery today as Cliff House.

Arbor Crest winemaker Kristina M. van Loben Sels is the wife of Jim van Loben Sels and daughter of Harold Mielke.

The fire has been emotionally difficult for her and others in the business, she said, but having a plan for restoration “makes you feel a lot better.”

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