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Landmarks: South Hill water tower has unique style

There is a water tower on Spokane’s South Hill that stands out as a work of art – and also the site of childhood memories.

James McCloud, who grew up in Spokane but now lives north of Seattle, shares some of the latter. He recalled watching fighter planes flying by the tower on their way to Fairchild Air Force Base, when he was a boy some 60 or 70 years ago. The tower was quite a sight then – and remains so now.

Located at 33rd Avenue and Lamonte Street, near Sacajawea Middle School, it is unique among water towers for its art deco style. Designed by J.W. Robinson and built in 1931, it is the only water tower in the city associated with the art deco period. Made of concrete, it stands 134 feet high and is an octagon with fluted design, vertical lines and setbacks typical of the style. The eight main pilasters have setbacks on both the top and bottom, with the top setbacks measuring 23 feet long and the bottom ones 12 feet long. There are no windows in the structure, and the stairs are located inside.

The interior steel storage tank that holds water for city residents measures 35 feet by 78 feet and can hold 1.25 million gallons of water. It is a water tank of the high system, explained Lynn Shupe, water superintendent for the City of Spokane Water Department. It and a 3.1 million-gallon sister tank (at the same elevation on the same system, but not sharing the same design) located at 33rd Avenue and Mount Vernon Street, make up seven percent of the city’s total water system, he said. The two tanks provide water for customers living in the area bounded by 17th Avenue on the north, 33rd Avenue on the south, Havana Street on the east and High Drive on the west.

The roof of the tank at 33rd and Lamonte is made up of circular flat welded steel plates added in 1957 and also sports significant pigeon netting. Also visible from the ground are numerous antennas for cellular and wireless communication systems for municipal departments and private businesses. Most of those are attached to a guard rail atop the tower and have cables running down the north-northwest side of the structure into equipment cabinets at the base of the tower or into a small wooden building set back from the tower itself.

The tower is a one-of-a-kind in Spokane, not just for its art deco style but as an elevated standpipe water storage system, the only enclosed standpipe tower in the city. There are other elevated standpipe facilities, but those are open from the ground to the water tank.

And it has another not-so-common feature: On the east side of the property is a community garden, now in its second year, where vegetables are ripening at this very moment.

Not only is Shupe well versed in matters of water systems, he knows a lot about the gardens, too, as his wife is one of the community gardeners at the water tower. Shupe himself hasn’t gotten to enjoy the produce yet. “Mostly, she’s got me up there pulling weeds,” he said.

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