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Washington Voices

Landmarks: Old brick building local media anchor

Thu., July 19, 2012

The former Green-Hughes Printing Co. building at 19 W. Pacific Ave. in Spokane has been upgraded as a modern office building. It will be the future home of KPBX radio. (Jesse Tinsley)
The former Green-Hughes Printing Co. building at 19 W. Pacific Ave. in Spokane has been upgraded as a modern office building. It will be the future home of KPBX radio. (Jesse Tinsley)

In the early 1900s when rail lines converged in Spokane to support the burgeoning agriculture, lumber and mining economies of the region, many brick buildings were constructed near the train tracks, providing space for industrial and commercial use on their main floors and apartments or single-occupancy rooms on upper floors. In 1911 the Green-Hughes Printing Co. Building at 19 W. Pacific Ave. became one of those commercial structures.

Many of those buildings are still in use today as warehouses or multifamily dwellings, but this particular structure may have the distinction of having the most eclectic uses over the years, including being the home to a significant regional publication. And it stands today ready to become home to another of Spokane’s media enterprises.

The rectangular red-brick veneer, unreinforced brick masonry building measuring 50-by-95 feet is pretty unremarkable and typical of the commercial block architecture of its time. Its fenestration above street level remains as originally constructed. Earliest occupants were the Commercial Laundry Co., Martin-Perry Corp. (an auto body shop), Western Equipment Inc. (truck body distributors) and Schaffer Laundry and Cleaners. And then in 1936, the operation that qualified the building for designation on the Spokane Register of Historic Places, began operation there – the Green-Hughes Printing Co.

Harley Hughes and Robert Green printed newspapers, periodicals, professional journals and other publications in the building from 1936 to 1951. Hughes had founded The Harrison Ensign, the first newspaper in Harrison and organized newspapers in mining towns of Idaho and Montana before moving his enterprise to Spokane. Three of the Green-Hughes publications were the Spokane Shopper, The Spokane Shopping News and the Supervisor, all of which related to labor and merchandise.

The publication with the greatest impact, however, was the Labor World, the only regional newspaper addressing concerns of labor and labor unions throughout the Inland Northwest. Subscription price was $1 a year. At a time when Spokane’s population was about 150,000 people, Labor World’s readership was 50,000.

Hughes, who helped write the bylaws for Spokane’s early labor council and had run unsuccessfully for mayor of the city (1902), was editor in chief of the paper until his death in 1942. It continued being published by Green, but from another location – and it is still being published today. The labor council Hughes helped found has evolved into the Spokane Labor Council, the region’s largest labor union overseeing all affiliated area labor unions.

In the 1970s the building’s exterior was changed at street level to accommodate a German restaurant. The basement was partially finished for a dance hall. Much of the interior was remodeled in 1985 for a typesetting and screen production business; the second floor was totally gutted that year. VHW1 Advertising agency bought the building and operated there for several years, erecting a 12-foot-tall silo inside to use as a conference room.

“Really, we called the silo store, told them the dimensions we wanted, and they said, ‘Oh, that’s model number such and such,’ and we could have it delivered the same day,” said Robert Hamacher, who was one of the partners in the ad agency. “So for $2,500, we got a silo that we assembled, lined it with acoustical tiles and installed an electrical pole from which we operated our audiovisual equipment.”

When the partnership ended, the business went to the remaining partner and Hamacher, owner of Roses ’n More Inc., retained the building. Current tenants are in the process of moving out. There’s a sign outside that reads: Future Home of Spokane Public Radio.

“It’s a groovy old building,” said Verne Windham, program director of KPBX, Spokane’s public radio station. “We must have looked at 50 buildings before settling on this one.” KPBX plans to use the original structure for its office and other support needs and expects to build broadcast studios on the lot next door.

If all goes well, ground will be broken on the project in 2013. The original 1911 warehouse building will serve 21st century needs – although the future of the interior silo remains in doubt. Different needs for different occupants – and different times.

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