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Washington Voices

Former Chevy dealership provides developer unique property

The building at 115. S. Adams St. in Spokane was once the shop for Wells Chevrolet Service. (Jesse Tinsley)
The building at 115. S. Adams St. in Spokane was once the shop for Wells Chevrolet Service. (Jesse Tinsley)

Back in the 1920s Spokane’s original Auto Row encompassed an area bounded on the north and south by Sprague Avenue and the Northern Pacific viaduct and, east and west, by Walnut and Monroe streets. Among the businesses located there were Riegel Brothers Dodge, Willys-Overland Pacific, Finlay-Studebaker, Chandler Auto, Eldridge Buick and Wells Chevrolet.

Among the six buildings built there between 1920 and 1926 was one that provided a most special feature: the Wells Chevrolet Service Building, completed in 1926 at 115 S. Adams St., was constructed so vehicles could be offloaded from railcars directly onto the roof of the structure. From there, the cars were taken in a large freight elevator to the second floor, transported over an enclosed bridge that spanned an alley separating the service building from the showroom building, and then down another elevator and onto the showroom floor. Indeed, it is the only building in Spokane using a roof deck and alley bridge to transport autos from a rail siding to showroom floor. The service building was the first stop in Spokane for Chevys shipped by rail from Oakland.

The building, now on the Spokane Register of Historic Places, occupies 105 feet along Adams Street and runs 75 deep along the viaduct and Railroad Alley Avenue. The two-story red brick structure was originally divided into five bays and has a solid reinforced concrete ground floor. A newspaper article at the time Wells Chevrolet Service Building opened listed the cost at $40,000 and described it as “probably one of the most complete shop and service buildings in the west.”

The dealership did not survive the Great Depression and folded in 1932. Over the years it was occupied by Better Chevrolet Service, Day-Majer Used Cars and Service and Riegel Brothers/Riegel-Becker Truck Service and Body Paint Shop. For a period of time a tobacco wholesaler and a candy wholesaler were located there. It was largely vacant through the 1990s.

In 1999 it was purchased by Jim Kolva, a consultant specializing in land use, environment, historic preservation and public policy. Trouble was, he could buy the building, but the land was still railroad-owned, making it unattractive for banks to lend development money, Kolva said. So he and his wife Pat Sullivan refinanced their home and built a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium unit within the structure for themselves.

As a matter of fact, their living room is now what used to be the bridge room over the alley. In time he was able to purchase the land under the building and has now developed the structure into six residential condos and two commercial spaces, the latter being occupied by Trackside Ceramics and the Kolva-Sullivan Gallery.

He was first attracted to the building because it was so well constructed, it looked good and the price was right. He remains a believer in the development of downtown condominiums. This one contains an internal courtyard and his office, which is located on the top floor of what used to be the elevator shaft carrying cars to the main floor.

As for the sound of trains during the night, that’s not a problem. Kolva said they only hear a train whistle when there’s someone on the track, which is rare, and only particularly heavy loads create a vibration in the building.

“But mostly we don’t notice or pay attention to vibrations,” Kolva said, “Sometimes weeks go by and it will occur to me I haven’t even been aware of any trains passing by.”