The house just a block off the busy Monroe Street business corridor on Spokane’s North Side stands as an anachronism. Clearly a once-elegant design masterpiece, it is now in the process of renovation and seems out of place in this neighborhood of smaller noncustom homes.
The two-and-one-half story, high-style Queen Anne house at 908 W. Frederick Ave., is the only one in the area taller than two stories. Designed by architect William J. Carpenter, who is also responsible for downtown’s Miller Block (now the Hotel Lusso), it was constructed in 1889, making it one of the oldest homes in Spokane. It is said to be the third-oldest home in the city north of the Spokane River.
Perhaps the most eye-catching feature is the house’s round turret clad in cedar siding and multi-patterned fish-scale shingles. The turret, which extends 35 feet in height, is capped with an unusually shaped conical roof with widely overhanging bellcast eaves. The turret construction appears to be unique in Spokane, according to research done for the house’s historic register nomination.
It is from the high perch in the turret that original owner John L. Currie, a businessman and mining entrepreneur who also served as a city councilman, enjoyed cigars and brandy with friends while looking out over the horse races at the nearby Corbin Park racing oval. The age, unique features and historic significance of the earliest occupants earned the Currie House listing on the Spokane Register of Historic Places in 1999.
The main floor of the house today contains the main and men’s parlors, kitchen, dining room and a half bathroom; the fireplace and staircase are elegantly crafted in mahogany, cherry and black walnut. The second floor has four bedrooms and a bathroom, and the third floor is an open space with three steps leading up into the turret.
Currie sold the house in 1902 to mining broker James L. Ford, who lived there for 25 years. Many of his children also went on to contribute to Spokane’s economic life, including son Jack Ford, who was managing secretary of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce for 25 years.
Current owner Kris Dailing, who purchased the property with her husband, Jeff, in 1998, said Ford’s granddaughter Kathleen Ford Scholz made several visits to the home upon learning of the Dailings’ efforts to restore it.
“She recalled visiting when she was a child and told stories of her grandfather, who refused to install an indoor toilet in the house.” Dailing said. “Kathleen said he told her that not even animals go to the bathroom where they live and that an outhouse was the proper place for such things. When he was pressed by the city, apparently he bolted a toilet to the kitchen floor so he could show inspectors he had one.”
When a sewer line was installed in 1924 Ford was forced to demolish his outhouse.
There were assorted owners of the property over the years and some startling changes made – including covering the original cedar siding and fish scale shingles with wood-paned siding in 1949. False dropped ceilings were put in, hiding the original ceiling murals and friezes depicting painted and stenciled designs in floral and geometric motifs. Transom windows were boarded up. Dining room pocket doors were replaced by a solid wall and the staircase walled in to close off the second floor.
Dailing said that was when it became known as the Pink House. “When we bought it, everything was pink,” she said. The exterior was painted pink. There was pink shag carpet. There were (and still are today) pink metal tiles and pink cupboards in the kitchen. Ceilings and walls were pink. There were pink plastic flowers in pink vases – and even a pink typewriter in the house. When something wasn’t pink, it was purple.
Despite all the pinkness, “it was the coolest house I’d ever seen,” she said. She and her husband purchased it with the idea of restoration and opening a bed and breakfast there. As they were both still working, they toiled as time allowed. They had help from Spokane Preservation Advocates, a group of volunteer preservation enthusiasts, removing the pink siding, and hired some other work. But most of the next 10 years were spent undoing the 1949 modifications, restoring the original elements and modernizing other features (bathrooms in particular).
Today, the original ceilings are again exposed and restored, leaded glass is being returned to the transom windows (an ongoing endeavor), the dining room pocket doors are again in fine shape, as are the elegant fireplace, parlors and many other features. But the kitchen retains elements of pink.
They’ve had renters in the building, one of whom did severe damage to their repairs, and the Dailings decided in 2009 that they had to abandon their B&B idea. Kris is now retired and Jeff is still with the Mead School District. They have grandchildren and enjoy traveling, so their focus has changed. Yet they are aware of how special the house is, as was the HGTV program “If These Walls Could Talk,” which featured a segment on it on Nov. 11, 2001.
Dailing said the current renter continues to work on the house and has plans to purchase it.