Christmas decorations displayed by retailers or retail groups have been a historical part of the downtown holiday scene.
Wreaths, lighted silhouettes, painted windows and window displays at stores like the Bon Marche, the Crescent and other bygone businesses were traditional heralds of the coming holiday season. The Paulsen Medical and Dental Building used to illuminate window lights in the shape of a giant cross.
In 1956, the C.C. Anderson department store chain, based in Boise, completed a 10-story building at Main Avenue and Wall Street in Spokane for their new store, named the Bon Marche after its Seattle store. And the store immediately commissioned a landmark holiday decoration: the Madonna and Christ child simulated stained glass window in front of the store, which is now Macy’s.
The backlit painted plastic sign, measuring 12 feet by 48 feet, was built by Baldwin Sign Co. It has been lifted into position above the main entrance of the store every year around Thanksgiving since 1957.
The design was changed from a traditional rendering to a modern, Cubist-influenced image in the 1960s. Baldwin updated the display by replacing some 500 incandescent bulbs with more than 1,000 LED lights, cutting the operating cost by more than 90 percent, according to Joel Baldwin, who has helped install the sign since he was a teenager.
The 1956 department store structure was built to align with the adjacent Welch Building, built in 1914 on the corner of Main Avenue and Howard Street, and a unified facade was installed.
– Jesse Tinsley
1957: The Bon Marche displays its Christmas Madonna, adding a dramatic note to the sparkling Yule decorations filling Spokane’s downtown streets and stores.
Present day: The image of Mary and the Christ child continues to glow during the holiday season on the corner of Main Avenue and Wall Street in Spokane.