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Landmarks: Legion building renovator raises the roof

The recently refurbished Legion Building, at Riverside Avenue and Washington Street, was built in 1901. (Colin Mulvany)
The recently refurbished Legion Building, at Riverside Avenue and Washington Street, was built in 1901. (Colin Mulvany)

The tall French Renaissance Revival-style building at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Spokane has many elegant adornments – typical of the early 1900s era in which it was built – but none more striking than the reconstructed hipped roof. Amid many red brick structures in the area, its Minnesota sandstone, blond pressed brick veneer and cream-colored terra cotta facades stand out.

It’s also hard to miss its inset loggia with its colossal columns and Corinthian capitals on the west side.

The Legion Building, as it is now known, was built in 1901 and is a far cry from the mostly vacant near-hulk it was when it was purchased in 2002. Real estate developer Steve Schmautz of Legion LLC set about transforming it into a modern facility for office and retail tenants.

Designed by Spokane architect John K. Dow, who along with other architects also designed the Masonic Center downtown, as well as the Hutton and Paulsen buildings. It was built by Spokane contractor Peter L. Peterson, who also constructed the Davenport Hotel.

The full story of the building, which is now listed on the Spokane, Washington and National registers of Historic Places, has been detailed by historic preservation consultant Linda Yeomans. She notes that it was originally designed with merchandise bays on the first floor, single-occupancy hotel rooms and multiroom apartments on the second and third floors and offices on the fourth floor. The fifth and sixth floors were designed as space for the Spokane Club, a social and fraternal organization, and included a library, smoking room, billiards and game rooms, fireplace lounge, dining room, individual hotel rooms for members, a kitchen and more. The club remained there through 1912.

In 1912 the Spokane Chamber of Commerce redesigned the upper floors for its use, and in 1948 the American Legion’s Spokane Branch No. 9 remodeled offices on the fourth floor and later also occupied additional space in the building. In 1932 the Hotel Assemblee occupied the second and third floors. On the street level, such retailers as W.W. Dreyfoos furnishings and millinery store, the Club Pharmacy, McNabb Pharmacy and assorted clothing stores were open for business.

The building survived fires in 1910, 1939 and 1982 – the most devastating of which was the 1939 fire, which began with a kitchen grease fire and destroyed the sixth floor as well as the roof and badly damaged the third, fourth and fifth floors. When repaired, the roof was left flat and covered with layers of tar.

Beginning in the 1970s, occupancy rates declined. The building fell into disrepair and was vacant except for one street-level tenant when the building came into Steve Schmautz’s possession.

“We gutted most of the interior, but we saved some of the beautiful staircases and woodwork,” Schmautz said. “And on the fourth floor, we took it apart, but in putting it together again kept the original floor plan along with the original tile floors and marble, and the high glass transoms.” A gym was installed in the basement for tenants, and much of the dark woodwork, exposed brick and curved walls was retained.

The interior high ceilings were kept as well; heating and cooling spiral ductwork was left exposed as part of the design.

One of the things Schmautz is most pleased about is that they were able to restore the hipped roof as a replica of its original design, reminiscent of French Chateauesque-style influences, according to Yeomans’ description.

It took nearly three years to complete the renovation, and now the structure is almost fully occupied by street-level retail businesses and assorted offices on the other floors, according to Schmautz.

“It’s difficult to rehabilitate an old building,” he added. “But it’s very satisfying to bring one to life again.

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