If you have been downtown this week, or perhaps in several of the older neighborhoods, you’ve seen clusters of visitors peering up from umbrellas at something we residents take for granted: century-old buildings kept intact or carefully restored by people who admire fine architecture, appreciate the history embedded in their brick and wood, and love the stories of the designers, builders and owners who constructed them.
The choice of Spokane for the National Preservation Conference validates the work of many who invested their money, vision and elbow grease in structures as humble as an old laundry, and as stellar as the Davenport Hotel. There are theaters like the Bing Crosby and the Fox, restaurants like the Steam Plant, even distilleries like Dry Fly in the Riverwalk block on Trent. And those are just the commercial buildings.
There are blocks in Browne’s Addition, the South Hill and around Corbin Park that, cleared of vehicles and recycling containers, would welcome home residents from decades ago. A house fashioned after a Swiss chalet may be a few doors down from a craftsman bungalow, a colonial saltbox, or Tudor mansion. Some might question the taste curdled in some homes, but there is something to be said even for a durable eyesore.
Many neighborhoods retain their canopies of centuries-old ponderosa pine, supplemented by the plantings of early settlers who appreciated natural shade. Preservation of our natural environment is as important as saving our built environment. Near Nature. Near Perfect. Remember?
The visitors are walking though a system of parks designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers, who also laid out New York City’s Central Park. At its centerpiece, they can climb on a steed at the Looff Carrousel and be transported back 100 years. If the riverfront is not what it was before the waters were harnessed for electrical power, the upper and lower falls can still cast a spell, especially during the spring runoff.
And what a view from the Monroe Street Bridge, finished in 1909 and rebuilt in 2004 without destroying the graceful arches so often used to frame the falls.
There’s Lewis and Clark High School, St. Aloysius Church, Spokane City Hall, and the Spokane County Courthouse.
We have lost some landmarks. The Rookery Building at the corner of Riverside and Howard, along with the adjacent Mohawk Building, for two examples. But we again have the Great Northern Depot, thanks to a recent restoration by McKinstry, and Mary Lou’s Milk Bottle, the modest but beloved beacon of the Garland District nearly lost in a fire last year.
We have been the stewards of wonders natural and man-made going back to generations of Native Americans. We hope our guests will have seen as much of this heritage as possible before they depart. And it would be good if, from time to time, we saw it through their eyes.