June 9, 2014 in City

Then and Now: The Symons buildings

By The Spokesman-Review

Capt. Thomas W. Symons of the U.S. Engineers Corps was born in 1849 in Keeseville, New York, and attended West Point in 1870. He came west to work on the Columbia River in 1881 and helped shape the foundation of Spokane.

As a civil engineer, Symons helped design Spokane’s first power-generating waterways. He bought and lost in the 1889 fire the first Symons Building, at First Avenue and Howard Street, then constructed a two-story brick building in its place. He moved on from Spokane, but his son, Thomas W. Symons Jr., stayed.

The elder Symons returned to the northeast and helped design important waterways, including the Erie Canal. He was commissioned by New York Gov. Teddy Roosevelt to inspect the state’s waterways in 1898 and followed Roosevelt to the White House in 1902. He became a top military aide, master of ceremonies, and manager of food, décor and White House finances. Symons died in 1920 at the age of 71.

Back in Spokane, the younger Symons tore down his father’s modest edifice and built the current four-story Symons Building in 1917. He was also a pioneer in local broadcasting. In the 1920s, Symons Broadcasting Co. owned radio station KPFY, which became KXLY. Over the years, the Symons Building was home to many companies, such as Sennfelder Bros. Bakery and ice cream shop, and groups such as the Moose Lodge, the Elks, the Odd Fellows and Improved Order of Red Men met there.

Symons Jr. died in 1941 at the age of 52.

1913: Crowds fill First Avenue in front of Lattin’s Cafe. At far right is the old Symons Building, a two-story brick block constructed after the original burned in the 1889 fire. This building was replaced by a four-story block in 1917, also called the Symons.

Jesse Tinsley photo Buy this photo
Present day: Looking northeast toward the intersection of Howard and First, the Symons Building is seen on the far right. The Symons replaced an earlier, two-story Symons block in 1917.

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