Spokane’s Garland District residents and business owners were in shock Monday after a Sunday night fire ravaged two neighborhood landmarks – Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle at Garland and Post, and Ferguson’s Cafe next door.
“We are heartbroken,” said Lisa Kulp, a server at Ferguson’s. “I can’t believe it happened. I am still in shock.”
The cause of the three-alarm blaze at the Depression-era Milk Bottle and the iconic diner remained under investigation Monday. Damage was estimated at more than $1 million. Officials said it was not clear whether either business could be restored.
The 8:42 p.m. fire started in combustible items outside the Milk Bottle and spread to a nearby gas meter, which accelerated the flames, Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said.
No injuries were reported. Fifty firefighters responded in 13 fire rigs.
Business owners said the fire came after the Garland area had seen several small, suspicious fires over recent weeks. Schaeffer confirmed that report.
“We are just all stunned,” said Sue Bradley, owner of Tinman Artworks, 811 W. Garland. “Of course, they are anchors for the district.”
She said members of the Garland Business District were notified last summer of the other fires, which were quickly extinguished, but that one of the fires started in her alley.
Bradley said city officials are assigning economic development staff to assist the business owners and the wider district in recovering from the loss as quickly as possible.
She said there was already talk Monday about holding a fundraiser to help the business owners reopen.
“Everybody is going to pull together,” Bradley said. “They love these people.”
The 38-foot-high Milk Bottle was built in 1935 by Benewah Creamery, of Spokane. It was only 15 feet in diameter originally, but was enlarged in 1940.
Ferguson’s, at 804 W. Garland Ave., in 1950 replaced the former Sander’s café, which opened in the 1930s. It reopened a little more than a year ago under the current owner, Dave Jones.
Ferguson’s Cafe has been featured in three movies, “Vision Quest,” “Benny & Joon” and “Why Would I Lie?”
The fire gutted the roof and caused ceiling beams to collapse into the center of the cafe. Glass and debris blew out from inside the restaurant, littering Garland.
Jones said he and the property owner both have insurance, and he was already in contact with his insurer about cleanup and possible restoration.
“If we can, we can. If we can’t, we can’t,” he said of rebuilding.
At the Brown Derby Tavern, 808 W. Garland, patron Woody Wooddell shook his head. “It’s a tragedy,” he said.
Walter Zimke, owner of The Clock House, 822 W. Garland, said his heart goes out to the business owners and their workers. “It’s a catastrophe,” he said.
Zimke complimented firefighters for preventing more damage.
Schaeffer said Monday the fire began outside of the Milk Bottle along a wall in an accessible area. “At this point in the investigation, it is too early to state a cause with the amount of work that remains,” he said. He added that it appeared Ferguson’s was destroyed.
The Milk Bottle, he said, had damage at different levels of the building and was being assessed for structural integrity. Timbers in the rear roof of the Milk Bottle were badly charred.
Fire Marshal Lisa Jones said a fire retardant coating on the “milk bottle” portion of the structure prevented the fire from damaging the bottle portion of the structure.
Ed and Kris Ritchie, owners of the Milk Bottle, had left for a trip to Canada but returned to Spokane Monday afternoon. They purchased the property in 2001 and were insured, said their son, Dan Ritchie.
“I’m kind of speechless,” he said.
A newspaper story on Dec. 7, 1934, announced that architects Whitehouse & Price were going to design six of the milk bottle stores in Spokane, each costing $3,700. Only two were built, including the Garland store.
In the early 1980s, the Garland store was operating as an antique shop. It was converted to an ice cream and dessert parlor in 1985 by Bill and Nola Graham.
The other store, at 321 S. Cedar St., was placed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places in 1985 and the national register in 1986.
The historic nomination document said the style was known as literalism in advertising and modern technology.
Dairy owner Paul Newport had moved his company from St. Maries in Benewah County to Spokane in 1922. The business operated eight retail outlets, including the milk bottles, and was known for its quality buttermilk, ice cream and mild yellow cheese.
The Cedar Street store had a bust of Coeur d’Alene Indian Chief Benewah hanging over the front door.
The last of the dairy’s outlets closed in 1978.