The stylish and historic City Ramp parking garage was on the verge of demolition.
A structural engineering study, after all, had recommended that the landmark art deco building in downtown Spokane be torn down.
But two longtime Spokane residents with a connection to the garage decided that wasn’t an option.
Structural engineers “thought the highest and best use of this block would be a parking lot, and we just had such an attachment to this garage and the history of it that we thought it was really important to save the building,” said Jack Heath, president of Washington Trust Bank, whose father parked at City Ramp and who bought the building with Spokane Valley dentist George Bourekis. They have embarked on a multimillion-dollar effort to save the structure.
City Ramp, at 430 W. First Ave., opened in 1928 with great fanfare. Business leaders at the time hoped that it would solve downtown’s growing parking crunch.
Today, the ramp retains much of its old-fashioned charm beyond its art deco exterior.
Although City Ramp no longer has a mechanic on hand, it still offers valet service, and customers can have their cars washed and filled with gas while at work. When construction is done, a few stalls will have outlets to allow electric cars to recharge.
The garage was added to the city’s historic registry earlier this year.
“It’s definitely one of the most impressive examples of art deco architecture in Spokane, probably in this region,” said Kristen Griffin, Spokane’s historic preservation officer.
Heath and Bourekis kept the garage open during construction, though the number of spaces was nearly cut in half as crews worked floor-by-floor.
Work on the interior will be complete in the next few weeks and exterior work will begin.
“I think it’s absolutely wonderful the investment that’s being made to save a piece of architecture like this,” said Rustin Hall, an architect at ALSC Architects as he waited in City Ramp’s temporary office for his car to be dropped off by a valet. “I’ve always had excellent service here – even through this construction.”
Bob Hemphill, owner of Chkn-N-Mo, rents a storage unit at City Ramp. He said he’s grateful that the new owners are investing in downtown despite the economic downturn.
“It creates a lot of jobs,” Hemphill said.
City Ramp, which employs eight people, will have 211 spaces when work is done, Heath said.
Asked how long they’ve been involved in the project, Heath answers with a laugh: “Somewhere between two years and forever.”
Spokane attorney Steve Lamberson has parking available closer to his office than City Ramp, but he parks at the old garage anyway “mainly because of the people,” he said.
The garage has a history of holding Christmas parties for clients.
“They’re nice people and you get to know them. We talk about other things now. Sports and family and the economy and politics and all the other things,” Lamberson said. “I just can’t imagine something as simple as parking becoming such an important part of our community.”
Jim Paras, president of Paras Concrete, examined the garage at Bourekis’ request, shortly after he and Heath bought it.
“When he brought me down here I had to question the soundness of his mind in buying this thing,” Paras said. “At the end of the day they have done 10 times more than what I thought they were going to do, capable of doing, to restore this.”