Bing Crosby’s boyhood home turns 100; open house planned
There is a mistaken notion that Bing Crosby’s family home was moved from another site to the campus of Gonzaga University because of the world-famous crooner’s association with the university.
Not true, said Stephanie Plowman, special collections librarian at Gonzaga and keeper of the Crosby Collection there, “but we hear it all the time. In fact, the Crosby family had been living in a rental home near campus when Bing’s father designed a new home for the family and built it with the help of Bing’s two uncles. It was built right where it stands today, at 508 E. Sharp Ave., and our campus grew up around it and other homes in the neighborhood. However, those other homes have been removed to make way for a parking lot.”
The Crosby House, constructed in 1913, celebrates its centennial this year, and Gonzaga is holding an open house Saturday to allow the public a chance to see Bing Crosby’s boyhood home, which is now owned by the university. The Advocates for the Bing Crosby Theater will be serving cake.
The Craftsman-style home continues to be possibly Spokane’s most under-publicized tourist attraction, Plowman said. Even so, it receives hundreds of visitors each year from across the world – New Zealand, Europe and most of the 50 states. “It never ceases to amaze how popular Bing Crosby remains today.” And more than 1,000 people visit the Crosbyana Room in Gonzaga’s Crosby Student Center annually.
The Crosby House has a large porch extending across the entire front of the house, with an entry hall, living room, dining room, study (behind lovely French doors), kitchen and bathroom on the main floor. Upstairs are four bedrooms, a bathroom and a sleeping porch, where it is said Bing and his brothers slept three to a bed and under piles of blankets in the winter.
There is newer siding now covering the original exterior shingles, but much of the rest of the home remains as it was when the Crosby family lived there, 1913 to 1936. Most of the oak floors remain intact, as does the curly fir woodwork that was stained an ebony color. There is a brick fireplace in the living room surrounded by bookcases, and the kitchen has painted cabinets and woodwork in a scalloped design. The kitchen’s ice cupboard remains in place from the days when ice was delivered for refrigeration purposes.
Gonzaga’s archives contain stories of how Bing’s father, who worked as a bookkeeper for Inland Brewery, brought music into the house. He sang and played mandolin and guitar. He bought a phonograph with a morning-glory horn and continually brought new songs in for the family to hear. Around 1917, Bing’s brother Ted built a crystal set radio with salvaged parts, adding even more music to the house. It would not be a stretch at all to say that Bing Crosby’s love of music began in this house, Plowman said.
Bing attended Webster Grade School (now demolished) at the corner of Standard Street and Sharp Avenue and graduated from Gonzaga High School in 1920, enrolling for a time at the college just next door with the intent of becoming an attorney. While at Gonzaga he took up the drums and joined a six-piece band called the Musicaladers and began performing at dances and parties. It wasn’t long before he abandoned college and in 1925 he and fellow band member Al Rinker headed for Hollywood. It is pretty well known how that move worked out.
His boyhood home was sold for $3,600 in 1936 to the Higgins family, who were next door neighbors. In an article he wrote in 1978, Pat Higgins recalled a tiny bullet hole in the lower right hand corner of the plate glass window of the dining room. He had heard that Bing put it there with his BB gun, but in later conversation with Bing’s brother Bob, he learned that Ted, an outdoorsman and hunter, was showing Bob how to handle firearms, and when Bob practiced pulling the trigger, one chamber wasn’t empty, as they had thought. The bullet flew past Ted and went through the window. According to his story, Ted and Bob ran quickly to nearby St. Aloysius Church to say their prayers.
The Higgins family lived in the house, and for a brief period took in Gonzaga students as boarders, until it was sold in 1978 to the Gonzaga Alumni Association, which did some updating to the house. In 2010 it was deeded over to the university when the Alumni Association outgrew the space.
Today two of the university’s administrative programs have offices there, and there is Crosby memorabilia throughout. It is, after all, the Crosby House, and it will forever be associated with Spokane’s own Bing Crosby.
Stefanie Pettit is a member of the Advocates for the Bing Crosby Theater.