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Spokane history found on the sidewalk looking up

The history behind the elegant old buildings of downtown Spokane is easily available in the form of online walking tours.

About a decade ago, the Spokane City/County Historic Preservation Office created a series of three downtown walking tours.

They can be found at historicspokane.org/HeritageTours/downtown/index.html.

The tours have proved popular with visitors to the city, especially downtown hotel guests, said Megan Duvall, historic preservation officer.

The downtown area is divided into three areas – west, east and central – with a combined total of 55 stops.

Each touris designed to be reachable on foot without becoming overwhelming, Duvall said.

Starting in central downtown, the first few stops are in Riverfront Park with stop No. 1 the historic Great Northern Railway clock tower.

Participants can click on the site and get a brief description of the history.

“The clock tower is all that remains of the Great Northern train station which was demolished in the early 1970s in preparation for Expo ’74. The train depot itself was completed in 1902 and was considered the finest depot west of Chicago,” according to the tour description.

Notice the slight color variation on the lower part of the tower, which shows the outline of the demolished depot through nearly matching tan brick that was used as a patch.

Stop No. 2 directs you to a plaque on the small “salmon people” island that splits the Spokane Falls. The plaque commemorates Riverfront Park as the site of Expo ’74.

“The idea for a world’s fair in Spokane came in the late 1960s, when 17 acres of railroad land along the Spokane River was acquired as part of a plan to remove railroads from the riverfront and downtown area of the city,” the tour script says.

The central downtown tour proceeds to the Flour Mill before moving into downtown proper. The No. 18 stop is the Sherwood Building at 510 W. Riverside Ave.

“Designed by architects (Kirtland) Cutter and (Karl) Malmgren and built in 1916-17, this Gothic design, reinforced-concrete building has extensive terra cotta detailing,” the tour says.

The east downtown tour has lots of lesser-known gems.

Stop No. 1 is the Ritz Theater, now Rocky Rococo’s pizza at 520 W. Main Ave.

“This Italian Renaissance-style building was opened in 1924 as the Ritz motion picture theater,” the tour says, urging people to notice the overhead balcony.

In the west downtown tour, possibly the most overlooked stop is the historic post office. When it opened, it was a huge deal.

“Conforming to the classical style adopted by the federal government for all federal buildings, this building was constructed in 1908-09 and designed by Treasury staff architect James Knox Taylor,” according to the tour information.

In addition to the tours laid out by the historic preservation office, there is also historical building information on the Google field trip application for mobile and at Spokane Historical, an Eastern Washington University history project, at spokanehistorical.org/tours/browse/.


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