Arguably the most spectacular entrance to any high school in all of Spokane – maybe even in the whole state – is at West Valley High School in Spokane Valley.
It’s the archway, a 26-foot granite and marble piece of history lovingly preserved, stored and eventually put back into place a few years ago through the efforts of retired West Valley Superintendent Dave Smith. It was originally the entrance to the 1924 West Valley High School on Trent Avenue and Argonne Road, where it remained when the new high school building was erected at Vista Road and Buckeye Avenue in the late 1980s and the old structure became a junior high school.
But when the old building was sold to Albertsons and was scheduled to be torn down in 1993, Smith arranged to preserve the arch and some other decorative work on the outer façade. “I couldn’t see losing that beautiful art work,” said Smith, who was superintendent from 1989 through 2004. “Just letting a bulldozer come in and destroy it was beyond my comprehension. We already had a new high school, so I thought we could take the arch down, store it and put it up again somewhere, sometime.”
So, that’s what happened. The arch was dismantled, covered in plastic and stored outdoors at the district’s bus garage. The two peacock-topped arches at the ends of the old building were also taken down and stored there. The marble from the arches was stored at the district’s maintenance shop and eight granite blocks with owls etched in them were removed and stored at the administration building.
In 2004, West Valley voters approved a construction bond levy to refurbish the present high school and remodel four elementary schools – and Smith ensured there was money in the project to reinstall the stored art pieces from the old building at the high school. The work took place in 2006-’07.
Dick Tresko from Tresko Monument was called in to complete what turned out to be a very difficult project. Much of archway was broken. Thirty pieces had to be cut, 15 remade and about 10 repaired. “All the pieces were there, but they had to be reshaped to fit a new space,” Tresko said. “We had to grind, chisel and blend textures. We sat and recreated the arch in three sections, going by photos from the old building.”
Because there was a 3-foot return piece on the original arch, which led into the old school building and which would not be used in the new one, there was extra material to supplement and replace in the reconstruction.
“It’s wonderful mother of pearl granite from a quarry in St. Cloud, Minnesota, that shut down some 50 or more years ago, and we wanted to do it justice,” he said.
Tresko’s grandfather built the original arch in 1924.
The tall archway with its inlaid marble panel is topped with two granite owls and a quotation from Alexander Pope: “Education forms the common mind; just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.” It is used as a backdrop for class photos and, Smith says, is as much the symbol of the school as is the school mascot, the eagle.
The eight small etched granite owls saved from the old building were placed throughout the renovated new building. The peacock panels now have a home in the school’s auditorium. Some of the remaining granite is also in use – as ledges in the auditorium and as a backdrop for a fountain in an outdoor patio.
Incorporating the old with the new is exactly what Smith had in mind. The cornerstone from the old high school sits beneath the arch, as does a new cornerstone.
“There was a lot of emotion when the old high school came down,” he said. “West Valley is a small community within a larger one. This is a close-knit group here, with a strong sense of ownership and pride. It just made perfect sense to preserve what we could. We couldn’t afford to build a new arch like that now – way too expensive. But because we saved the old one, we were able to incorporate its reuse in a bond issue. It was a little risky to try to do it maybe, but sometimes you just have to make the decision.”
Smith recalls bringing back a group of graduates from the old West Valley High School days. “They were amazed and pleased. One person sighed and said, ‘Yes, we’ve gotten our school back again.’”