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After fire, Milk Bottle reopens with a few improvements

The Bottle is back in business. Damaged by a fire last fall, Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle in the Garland Business District celebrated its restoration Thursday with hamburgers and milkshakes for Spokane firefighters.

It was owners Kris and Ed Ritchie’s way of thanking fire crews who spent several hours on Sept. 25 fighting the

blaze that caused $300,000 damage to the historic bottle-shaped business.

Also on hand for Thursday’s first-day-back party were workers from Compass Construction, the company that spent seven months putting the business back together.

Both the Ritchies and the work crews said the efforts by Spokane firefighters were essential in helping save one of north Spokane’s most distinctive old buildings.

“If the fire had burned another 30 more minutes, there would have been no Milk Bottle to restore” because the walls would have buckled and the ceiling might have collapsed, said Kevin Serr, project manager for Compass Construction.

Spokane Fire Department officials said the cause of the fire is still unknown. Evidence suggests it started at the rear of either the Milk Bottle or Ferguson’s Café next door, then ignited a natural gas line between the buildings, creating flames burning hotter than 1,000 degrees, said Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer.

Ferguson’s, another Garland landmark, was destroyed by the fire, but owner Dave Jones said the business is being rebuilt and is expected to reopen this summer.

The Ritchies say it was good fortune they were able to save and reuse most of the historic photos that were on the Milk Bottle’s walls. They also were able to clean and restore the diner’s marble-covered tables and the kitchen grill and deep fryer.

And, despite the fire and volume of water used in fighting it, the original white mosaic tile floor remained intact, said Kris Ritchie.

The upside of the fire was the opportunity to install up-to-date heating, cooling and electrical systems in a building that was originally constructed as a dairy, not a place for ovens and public food service.

“We have all-new ventilation in the area of the grill,” said Ed Ritchie. “Our cooks were always finding the grill area got too hot while preparing food.”

Added Kris: “I love the way it feels now. It’s essentially the same, but much cleaner and safer.”

When work crews pulled off the walls to expose the building’s frame, they found that the original ceiling had been lowered, hiding the open space near the entry that looks up 15 feet into the neck of the “bottle” part of the building.

Compass Construction owner Fred Anderson said he was inspired by the Ritchies’ desire to restore the ceiling’s opening. He designed a pink neon light that now circles the lower edge of the opening.

He also gave the owners a gift: lights made by hand from 1950s-era one-quart milk bottles that one of Anderson’s workers bought on Craigslist.

“In the process I broke four of them, but we were able to finish the other four and give them to Kris and Ed,” Anderson said. “If I broke any more than four, we’d have been in trouble.”

The lights now hang inside the ceiling opening.

The Garland Milk Bottle was built in 1935 and is a sister structure to another Spokane building of the same shape at 321 S. Cedar St. The Spokane dairy originally planned to build six such bottles, but only two were constructed.

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