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Washington Voices

Landmarks: Arnesons honor former house of playwright

The American foursquare-style Dyar-Kiesling home just off Rockwood Boulevard celebrates its centennial this year. Beautifully kept, with many of its original features intact, the house is a wonderful tribute to the architecture and craftsmanship of elegant home building of the early 20th century in Spokane.

A look at the house, 526 E. 12th Ave., reveals the care owners Vern and Janine Arneson have taken. They bought it in 1989, drawn to the character of the house. It was in remarkably good shape, but like many older homes, it did need some maintenance upgrades.

In the process, they decided to restore some features to vintage appearance as well. For example, two bathrooms had been modernized, but the Arnesons made them look as they would have in the early 1900s, using antique bathroom appliances and replacing a modern medicine cabinet with an antique one that Janine, who conducts estate sales, found.

Another project was the three-year renovation of the basement. Vern Arneson, director of materials management for Valley Hospital, did most of the work himself, including rebuilding the staircase, repairing and refinishing the billiards room and creating a bathroom where the tool room had been.

“Vern really likes projects,” Janine Arneson said. (That’s good because the kitchen is next.)

As is true with many of Spokane’s stately older homes, stories of the lives of the earliest residents of the Dyar-Kiesling home are just as fascinating as the architecture itself. Designed by architect Franklin Manz in 1912 and built by C.A. Lansdowne for $13,500, the home is listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places for its architectural significance and for its association with Ralph E. Dyar, who lived there from 1927 to his death in 1955. His wife, Else Kiesling Dyar, remained in the home until moving to Seattle in 1967.

Ralph Dyar is probably best known locally as author of the book “News for an Empire,” which chronicles development of the region and growth of The Spokesman-Review, covering the 1800s to the atomic age and including never-before-published letters from Theodore Roosevelt to the newspaper’s publisher W.H. Cowles Sr.

Dyar, who served as director of The Spokesman-Review’s promotion and research department, also authored “Newspaper Promotion and Research,” which was widely used as a college text, and wrote articles for such magazines as Country Life in America and Life.

He was also a successful playwright. His murder mystery “Voice in the Dark” was produced on Broadway in 1919 and made into a film – one of the first talkies – by Samuel Goldwyn. His “The Real Thing” was also produced in New York in 1928, and he authored a number of other plays that also were produced at various locations in the country.

Dyar’s ancestry goes back to the Mayflower, and one of his female ancestors was one of the three women who applied paint to disguise as Native Americans the men of the Boston Tea Party. And his daughters and granddaughters wrote a cookbook in 1983 that included stories about the family along with recipes.

The Arnesons remain in contact with the Dyar grandchildren and send them an annual newsletter updating them on what’s going on with the house. And the Dyar family has provided them with some family artifacts for the home – including the typewriter on which Dyar wrote “Voice in the Dark.”

Vern Arneson notes that the Dyars were interesting on several levels. In the four-bedroom home, one bedroom was for Ralph and Else, another served as a study for Ralph, a third was for their son Conrad and their four daughters all had to share the fourth bedroom. Yet, because daughter Margaret was fascinated by astronomy, father Ralph cut a hole in the roof and built a platform up there for her to be able to set up her telescope. Although the hole and platform were removed by the Arnesons, it may well have been because of that unique feature that the home was featured a few years ago on the HGTV program “If These Walls Could Talk.”

Margaret Dyar Ashworth visited her former family home shortly before her death about 10 years ago and took note of the hunk of basalt with a concave side that lay among some brush off to the side of the front yard. It had been used as a bird bath when she was a girl, she said.

That was a revelation, so right after that visit, the Arnesons hauled the big rock into the front yard and placed it on top of some other rocks, reestablishing it once again as a bird bath. The Arnesons take seriously their commitment to maintaining a vintage home – even for the birds.

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