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Owner has hopes for future of Lowell School building

The  Lowell School building in Vinegar Flats, southwest of downtown Spokane, was active as a school from 1919-’33 and 1943-’54. (Jesse Tinsley)
The Lowell School building in Vinegar Flats, southwest of downtown Spokane, was active as a school from 1919-’33 and 1943-’54. (Jesse Tinsley)

When Lynda Peterson moved into a new home in the southwest area of Spokane a dozen or so years ago, she spotted the former Lowell School at 2225 S. Inland Empire Highway across Highway 195 – and fell in love with the style of the old building.

“I thought that if it ever came on the market, I’d grab it,” said Peterson, co-owner of the famous Dick’s Hamburgers in Spokane, “and then in 2006, I did just that.” But not long after, in 2007, Dick’s founder Abe Miller died and she had to focus on that business, setting aside her plans for the Lowell School building.

The old prairie school building sat unused and seemingly unloved for a long time, the victim of vandalism and the march of time. But it was once a vibrant part of the thriving Vinegar Flats area of the city, so called because local apple farmers delivered their harvests to a plant there to be made into vinegar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A community of homes and small farms blossomed nearby. The farms are largely gone now, but many of the old homes remain, located near the banks of Latah Creek south of downtown Spokane.

Of late, there’s been some growth a bit farther south in the form of a golf course, large grocery store and restaurants. But the population that once supported a need for Lowell School shifted some time ago; the school closed the first time in 1933 when there were just three teachers and 71 students, and the students were transferred to Irving School. In 1940 the school housed National Youth Administration classes (a New Deal program), and a technical-vocational school occupied a portion of the building until 1941, when it was closed again.

In 1943 it reopened with 57 students, and by 1945, enrollment had risen to 124, according to the book “First Class for 100 Years: Spokane Public Schools 1889-1989.” But by 1954 the student population dropped to 39 and the building closed again.

It was rented by Northwest Air College in the mid-1950s for the training of flight attendants. It was again vacant from 1956 to 1958, when it was sold to a private party – and has changed hands a few times since.

The original Lowell School – named for James Russell Lowell, the American philosopher, educator and poet – opened in 1899 and a decade later had 56 students. It was replaced in 1919 by the current building, a four-room brick and concrete structure, for a cost of $18,900. Records show that some remodeling was done in 1970 and that the main floor footage measures 6,000 square feet.

Even though it’s once again vacant, Peterson still expects to be able to turn her attention to it one of these days.

“I wanted this building for the community,” she said. “I still hope to turn it in to a gathering place with maybe a bakery and some shops. I wanted it. I got it. Now I just have to do something with it.”