The house in the Marycliff-Cliff Park National Register Historic District on Spokane’s South Hill is but one of several lovely Craftsman-style homes gracing the neighborhood, but this one, also listed individually on the Spokane Register of Historic Places, has a unique distinguishing feature: It was the childhood home of Marguerite Motie, the first and longest-reigning Miss Spokane.
Selected in 1912 from 138 entrants in Spokane Advertising Club’s contest to become the city’s first official hostess, the 17-year-old Motie is no doubt the best-known Miss Spokane. Her image, dressed in Native American garb, graces the cover of Tony and Suzanne Bamonte’s book “Miss Spokane: Elegant Ambassadors and Their City” and at one time was part of what was arguably the largest advertising campaign ever launched in the city, having global reach.
She bore the title officially from 1912-’20, but unofficially until 1938, even after she married and moved to Seattle, returning to Spokane when official duties beckoned. The second Miss Spokane was crowned in 1938, holding the title until 1947, when a new Miss Spokane was selected annually until 1976.
The home Motie lived in with her parents, Frank and Anna, at 614 W. 13th Ave., and with her seven sisters, was built in 1910 (at a reported cost of $5,000) and blessed by the Moties’ parish priest, with a religious medal inset in the plaster over the front door. Designed by architect William J. Ballard, the home contains five bedrooms, formal living and dining rooms, kitchen, library, sleeping porch, butler’s pantry, linen room and wonderful fir woodwork and flooring. There is also a chicken house in the yard – today used as storage for garden tools – decorated to match the house’s exterior.
It is now owned by Frank and Karen Capillupo, who purchased it in 1983 when he was stationed in Spokane as a survival school commander at Fairchild Air Force Base. “It was the first house I saw and had been vacant for a year,” Karen Capillupo said. “It was sound, but it needed a lot of cosmetic surgery.”
For instance, the living room walls and ceiling had been painted brown. She picked vintage-looking wallpaper and then set about stripping the beige paint off the natural fir woodwork.
Doing the work herself got to be too much. “I called in reinforcements when I had a decorating breakdown,” she said. The original solid oak flooring has been refurbished and remains today.
After two years in Spokane, the Capillupos returned to Washington, D.C., for three years before returning for good in 1988, the year Frank retired from the Air Force after 24 years as an intelligence officer. He went on to coach football and baseball at Rogers High School in the 1990s and now is a volunteer at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. While they were back East, Karen shopped for the house, combing stores and sales in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. She also acquired items in Spokane, such as a footstool passed at an estate sale, and is a big-time shopper on eBay, where she located a 1920s German Loetz threaded glass lamp.
“I’ve pretty much collected myself out of space,” Karen said.
She noted that the Motie family has been most generous as she and her husband have attempted to restore the vintage feel to the house. One of Marguerite Motie’s nephews in Tennessee gave them the lap organ that Anna Motie played for the family, and another niece from Oregon sent a photo of a horse that originally hung in the living room. Both of those items are again in the living room, which is decorated with antiques.
Marguerite Motie lived in the home eight years of her reign as Miss Spokane. During her years as the city’s official ambassador, she met national and international dignitaries, from President Teddy Roosevelt to the marshal of France. Poems and songs were written about her, and her image appeared everywhere. She even christened the Miss Spokane, the first plane made by the Northwest Plane Company Spokane in 1919. The following year she married her high school sweetheart, Walter Shiel; they raised three children in Seattle. She died in 1982 at age 87.
A great deal has been written about Motie and about that first Miss Spokane contest – in the Bamontes’ book and elsewhere – and she was described as a comely young woman of elegance. The home she lived in again reflects the elegance of that earlier age, thanks to the dedication and hard work of Karen and Frank Capillupo.
“We didn’t know the history of the house when I first fell in love with it,” Karen said. “The house just welcomed me home, and I’m so glad it did.”
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