One hundred years ago, people in the booming city of Spokane gathered at fraternal clubs to socialize.
The Foresters of America Hall at Pacific Avenue and Browne Street, built in 1910, was one of dozens of lodges in Spokane at the time, according to historic research.
Now, a pair of local family wineries is restoring the brick building to be used as a wine production facility, with plans for a tasting room, bistro and events space.
The $1 million renovation is occurring as Spokane prepares to host the prestigious National Preservation Conference Oct. 31 through Nov. 3.
“It is such a neat building. It has a good feel,” said Melody Padrta of Bridge Press Cellars, one of the hall’s future occupants, along with Emvy Cellars.
The new winery facility is going to be included in a tour during the convention put on by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. What people will see is an example of how an old building can serve a new purpose. And the tour won’t be dry. It will end with a tasting of the wineries’ high-end vino.
Padtra said the long-range plans call for creating what would be the first winery bistro in Spokane.
Across the Pacific Northwest, wine bistros have become popular businesses. Lake Chelan has several wine bistros catering to the strong tourism business there.
Padrta said her wine group hopes to take advantage of the trend as they expand into the 22,500 square feet of space on the two floors and basement.
“We hope to bring more good things to downtown,” she said.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go before we open our doors, but when we do, we hope people enjoy it and come back.”
The winery journey into downtown Spokane traces back to changes in the ownership of local wineries.
Bridge Press and Emvy cellars both started as spinoffs from the Mountain Dome and Grande Ronde Cellars labels, produced at the Mountain Dome facility in the Foothills area of Spokane County.
Winery owner and vintner Don Townshend purchased Mountain Dome a few years ago and moved production of his other labels into the Mountain Dome facility.
That forced Bridge Press and Emvy to seek a new production location, and they settled on the Foresters Hall.
Bridge Press and Emvy currently operate a wine bar at the Spokane Public Market, which is on the same block as the Foresters Hall.
Melody and Brian Padrta, a Spokane orthopedic surgeon, joined forces with Emvy owners Mark and Valerie Wilkerson to form Marketplace LLC, which purchased the Foresters Hall last November. Mark Wilkerson operates an insurance business.
There is a possibility that the facility could provide space for Grande Ronde production.
Grapes for all of the wines are largely taken from two of Walla Walla’s most prestigious vineyards – Seven Hills and Pepper Bridge.
Jerry Mauer, of Mauer Construction, is reinforcing the main floor with steel I-beams to support the weight of fermentation tanks and barrels. A new freight elevator will allow the winemakers to move barrels into the basement for aging.
Mauer has experience renovating old buildings. He was the contractor for Barrister Winery, 1213 W. Railroad Ave., and the Sapphire Lounge at Hotel Ruby, 901 W. First Ave.
The owners are in the process of seeking a historic register listing, which would make tax incentives available to offset some of the cost of their investment.
The Foresters Hall was built by Court Royal No. 19, Foresters of America, to house a membership that exceeded 1,000 at one point after World War II.
The upper floor has a dance floor and stage that provided the main venue for club events. It could eventually become an events facility for the wineries in a second phase of renovation.
Jim Kolva, a Spokane consultant hired for historical research on the register nomination, said that the hall apparently lost its liquor license in 1949, which forced the Foresters organization to sell the building to the Sadir Khan Grotto, an offshoot of the Masons.
The building’s upper floor served as an events facility for many years while retail businesses occupied store fronts on the main floor.
The hall was the venue for youth dances in the 1960s and ’70s, with some of the top bands in the Pacific Northwest appearing there.
“The Foresters of America and the Grotto lodge room played a role in the social and cultural history of Spokane as a venue for events both by Foresters’ and Sadir Khan’s members as well as community events,” Kolva said in a draft of his nomination report.