Ninety years of history came crashing down Monday as the heavy bucket of a Rob’s Demolition excavator knocked over the walls of the old Trinity Catholic School and scooped up debris.
A crowd occasionally gathered to watch the heavy equipment work while dust and memories swirled in the air. David Eyre attended first through eighth grade at the school, graduating in 1967. He attended St. Anthony’s Catholic Parish next door.
He pointed to a wall of the school left standing, blackboards still hanging from it. “That was my first-grade room over there, where I started my education,” he said.
The school at 1306 W. Montgomery Ave. has been replaced with a brand-new building just to the west at 2315 N. Cedar St. It houses grades K-8 and the school’s EduCare program. The building was funded by a donation from Edmund Schweitzer, who founded Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, and his wife, Beatriz.
School principal Sandi Nokes sat on the steps of St. Anthony’s and watched her old school come down.
“Ninety years was a long time for it to stay up,” she said. “It’s definitely bittersweet. There’s a lot of people that benefited from being within those brick walls.”
She marveled as the excavator operator deftly picked up and sorted the debris as he went. He used a piece of steel I-beam to push the bricks into piles. The crews promised to save some of the bricks and leave them outside the construction site fence at night so people could come and take souvenirs, Nokes said.
“A lot of people are asking about the bricks,” she said. “That’s what they want.”
In April and May the old building was opened up occasionally for people to come and take mementos from the old building. “We did weeks of it,” Nokes said. “People took desks. There were some old benches that a lot of us wanted.”
Some items were donated to the Catholic Charities furniture store and other charities.
Eyre was one of those former students that stopped by. “I went around to each room where I had class and got something, whether it was a coat hook or a doorknob or a piece of the floor,” he said.
Eyre said he plans to make a shadow box for his new collection.
But before the building came down, crews took out the old cornerstone and found a copper box inside. Nokes said she had no idea it was there.
Inside the box was a copy of the Spokane Daily Chronicle from June 13, 1928, that included a story about the new school going up. It announced the cornerstone would be laid with “solemn ceremonies” with Bishop Charles White and the Rev. J.A. Faust in attendance.
A large, handwritten document detailed the history of the church and school. “Everybody signed it, the bishop, the pastor at the time, the committee members,” Nokes said. “We’ll get that framed.”
There were also dimes and St. Christopher and St. Anthony medals in the box. “It was so much fun having that come out,” she said.
Eyre said he and some old classmates stopped by the old school in the fall of 2016 for a walk down memory lane. He found everything virtually the same as it had been when he was a child.
“I had not been in that building in almost 50 years,” he said. “I was just stunned. I couldn’t believe how much of the original features they had retained. There were cupboards and doors in the rooms that were clearly original.”
Eyre had such fond memories of the school that he published a book called “Holy Ghost and St. Anthony’s School: Decades of Memories” that includes old photos, newspaper articles and information about the decades the school was open.
While the original features may have been good for his nostalgia, Eyre recognized that it wasn’t good for the school.
“Eventually it caught up to them,” he said. “There was asbestos in there, the roof was leaking.”
Still, watching his old school come down was bittersweet. “The older I get the more I appreciate old things that remind me of things from long ago,” he said.
Former Trinity School student and current teacher and assistant principal Kathi Cook found it too difficult to go see the demolition. “I’ve seen some pictures,” Cook said. “I really didn’t want to see that. It was hard looking at the pictures.”
Cook moved into the school halfway through her first-grade year and graduated in 1972. After become a teacher she worked at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School and St. Mary’s Catholic School for a combined 17 years before landing at Trinity 17 years ago.
“Walking in, it was like coming home,” she said of her return to Trinity. “There’s a special feeling, I can’t even pinpoint it. It felt really good.”
So much was the same as when she was a student, Cook said. “This is history that’s being torn down,” she said. “It makes me sad that that’s no longer going to be there.”
Once the school is torn down, a new gym and parking lot will go in its place. The old gym was too small for spectators and balls often bounced off the low ceiling during games. While Cook is sad to see the old school go, she’ll be happy to see the new gym completed.
“The new gym is going to be so wonderful,” she said.
The original schedule called for the gym to be completed by late fall or early winter, but changes to the building plan mean the school has to have another hearing in August before the city will approve the plans, Nokes said.
The gym will now be a little bigger and it was moved further east on the site, putting the parking lot and Shane’s Playground in the middle.
“I’ll be able to see the playground from the school easily,” Nokes said. “It maximizes all the space. The changes are good changes, better for the neighborhood and better for the kids.”