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Landmarks: Pair of homes converted to apartments early on

The Charlotte Graham House, which sits at 1210 S. Adams St., was built in 1906. (Tyler Tjomsland)
The Charlotte Graham House, which sits at 1210 S. Adams St., was built in 1906. (Tyler Tjomsland)

When Lisa and Jim Van Nostrand drove up to Spokane from their home in Kennewick last year for their 25th wedding anniversary celebration, they posed for a formal portrait outside the old South Hill home where they had their first apartment.

Building owner Rebecca Mack let them set up camera and lights for the picture at 1210 S. Adams St., the vintage home that had been subdivided into apartments not too many years after it was built in 1906.

“We just loved that place, the front room looking out at the squirrels on the lawn, the fireplace and hardwood floors,” Lisa Van Nostrand said. “There was such an interesting group of people who lived there, something like when reading a period piece about a boarding house as a magic cottage.”

That magic cottage – known as the Charlotte Graham House – has undergone some considerable changes during its life. In its centennial year, 2006, it earned its way onto the Spokane Register of Historic Places. It is notable for its American Four Square design, the people who first occupied it and, most significantly, for being one of the earliest of the city’s elegant older homes to be subdivided into apartments.

In all the histories written about the house, mention is always made of its companion house – the Thomas J. and Charlotte Graham House just next door at 1204 S. Adams St. This larger and grander home was the original dwelling of the Grahams, built for them in 1896. Now also on the register, it too was converted into apartment units a century ago.

Thomas J. Graham made his fortune through mining, and like others before and after him, expanded into real estate and other investments. At various times he did business from the old Rookery Building as Odell and Graham and later in the Mohawk Building as Livingood and Graham.

The Grahams built the smaller single-family dwelling on their property in 1906 apparently as a hedge against declining financial security. As the economy began to quiet down after 1910, a trend began in which homes were turned into multi-unit structures as a source of additional income, a practice that became commonplace by the late 1920s. Research done for the historic register designation indicates that when Charlotte Graham moved into the house in 1912, six years after her husband died, it had likely already been turned into apartments. She moved back and forth between the homes and died in 1922 as a resident of 1210 S. Adams.

The Charlotte Graham Home is a 2 1/2-story wood frame residence with a 1 1/2-story rear extension and partially enclosed full-length front porch. Many original features remain, such as the entry foyer’s interior staircase and the first-floor fireplace with its tile-clad hearth and metal firebox door. There are four spacious apartments within, ranging from a studio to an expansive two-bedroom unit with enclosed front porch.

Over the years so many different families have lived there, many of whom are chronicled in the Spokane Register research. Owner Rebecca Mack says that from the very beginning there seems to have been a sense of community among the residents, which continues among today’s occupants as well. She points to a house up the street and notes that a former resident bought it and says that residents often stay in touch even after leaving. “It’s a neighborhood feeling,” she said.

It’s the same sentiment Lisa Van Nostrand expressed about the time she and her husband lived there in 1987-88.

“I am just captivated by the old homes on the South Hill,” she said. “Some of our happiest days were there.”

In an interesting bit of historical fate, Rebecca Mack owns both of the Graham homes. She moved to Spokane from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1993 to work in radio. Though she has held other media positions, she may be best known for her work as producer and co-host on the Mark Fuhrman radio program on KXLY and later KGA radio, 1999-2007. She said she recognized that a career in radio might not be sustainable long term, so in 2004 she bought the original Graham home as an investment.

By then it had deteriorated into a drug house, she said, and was saved from being condemned by another buyer, who did the decontamination work, after which she purchased it. With the help of her boys, she dug in to renovate and restore the structure. She was approached by the owner of the next-door Charlotte Graham House in 2005 and asked if she might be interested in buying that, too. That house was clearly in need of renovation and upgrading as well. By then she was married to Tim Frothingham, who specializes in historic renovation work, but even so, she at first thought that she had enough on her plate.

“But then we thought, why break up the set?”

Today the houses are lovingly restored, the grounds nicely maintained and those who live within sharing the common spaces of the two structures – just like they did 100 years ago.

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