Landmarks: A charmer in Cheney
If a person thought it unlikely that a small community in the region might be home to a residence that embodies the finest grandeur and elegance of high Victorian architecture, then that person has never been to Cheney.
There – at 306 F St., just a few blocks downhill from Showalter Hall, the main administration building at Eastern Washington University – sits the remarkable David Lowe House, listed in 1983 on the National Register of Historic Places. This Queen Anne-style structure, especially with its playful and airy exterior detailing, is a leading example of ornate turn-of-the-century domestic architecture.
Cheney came into being largely due to the Northern Pacific Railroad, which platted the township in 1880. In 1882 railroad magnate Benjamin P. Cheney founded the Benjamin P. Cheney Academy there, which eventually evolved into EWU. In those early days of development, Frank M. Martin (father of future Washington Gov. Clarence Martin) and Louis Houck, five-term mayor of Cheney, owned several parcels of land in the original township and built structures on them. Houck sold three lots to David and Bessie Lowe, who built the Lowe house in 1904 after retiring from working their 400-acre farm on the outskirts of town, just southwest of Fish Lake.
Lowe pursued real estate interests, was active with the Masonic Lodge and worked for such humanitarian causes as raising relief funds for victims of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Bessie Lowe was also socially active and was treasurer of Cheney Eastern Star. Although they were childless, they invited students from the region to live with them while attending school in Cheney. Lowe died in 1935; his wife two years later. Her sister, Helen Ware, who had been living with them, inherited the house and converted it into a boarding house for young women to supplement her income. When she died in 1952, subsequent owners continued to use the property as rental housing.
The house has the typical Queen Anne balloon frame, clapboard siding and central hipped roof that is interrupted by cross gable pavilions – and, of course, is highlighted by significant porches, including a most interesting oval-shaped balcony above the northwest section of the main porch. What is unusual, and more typical of the earlier Eastlake style of Victorian architecture, is the prominent spindle work on the porches. Spindle screens grace the frieze levels and look to support large and graceful c-shaped braces that articulate the column bays of the main porch. When damage occurred to some of this decorative work, later owners took pains to restore it to its original appearance.
Although there has been extensive remodeling inside, the original woodwork, varnished softwood panel doors, picture rails and stairway with a turned halfway landing and balusters remain. It is noted that one of the loveliest of the interior features is a wooden bead and spindle portiere above the main floor parlor entrance.
There are two other structures on the property – a carriage barn and potting shed. Now called the carriage house and used for storage, David Lowe once housed horses there. It is one of the few barns left within the town limits.
In recent years, the Lowe House has been the home to various Greek organizations affiliated with the university and has been owned since the mid-1990s by Alpha Phi sorority. Anne Williamson, president of the Alpha Phi chapter house corporation board, said 20 sorority women now reside there. Alpha Phi completely remodeled the second floor, where 10 of the women live, and finished the basement, where the remaining 10 have bedrooms. The main floor is the common area and includes a newly remodeled kitchen.
While once tea was served in fine china in the parlor, today the parlor is more likely to sport a much-used ironing board and young women studying or lounging casually with friends. Uses change, but the solid and elegant Queen Anne home remains.