The Spokane Athletic Round Table, a club of sports boosters started in 1920, began using proceeds from slot machines for youth and college sports programs. Members met over whiskey and cigars weekly at their own club for most of 36 years. Joseph Aloysius Albi, a fast-talking trial attorney who always had a joke up his sleeve, led the group from 1920 until 1962. Through the years he conspired with other “knights” of the Athletic Round Table, like Ray “Doc” Mauro of Gonzaga, to pull zany pranks, poke fun and raise funds to help underprivileged kids.
Today’s business and tourism promoters talk about whitewater parks, “Near Nature, Near Perfect” and Spokane’s occasional appearances in top-10 lists. Such promotions are not new. In 1920, as the frantic growth of the former frontier settlement began to slow, the Chamber of Commerce came up with a fair promoting the city’s proximity to fishing and hunting:
Many things attracted newcomers to the tiny settlement of Spokane in the 1870s. There was plentiful land, water and timber. But the railroad fueled most of the optimism. The first transcontinental was completed in 1869 with the driving of a golden spike at Promontory, Utah. But the Northern Pacific was engaged in a brash, all-out push to complete a new route across the upper states and through Spokane.
The first businesses in Spokane, after early trading posts, were water-powered grain and timber mills. Four major grain mills were established in early Spokane: C&C, Echo, Spokane Flour and Centennial Mills. The history of Centennial mirrors the growth of wheat and corporate agriculture in the 20th century.
America married its love of cars and movies in the concept of the drive-in theater. There were several around Spokane from the 1940s to the 1980s. A few lasted until the early 1990s. Few loved the movies as much as businessman Joseph Rosenfield. Born and raised in the Midwest, he began managing theaters as a young man. He came to Spokane in 1935 to manage Evergreen Theaters. In 1943 he started his own chain, Favorite Theaters, in Spokane. He grew the chain to nine movie houses and drive-ins. He envisioned and built the largest of Spokane’s drive-ins, the East Sprague Drive-in.
Sandpoint, Idaho is known today as a tourism destination for skiers, hikers and fishermen. But for the last century it was an important railroad stop and a center of timber cutting and milling. Following the explorations of David Thompson in 1809, it was simple frontier settlement.
Joao Ignacio was born in the Azores in the late 1830s and headed to America in his teens. Joao, who Anglicized his name to John Enos but was also known as “Portuguese Joe”, headed to California to look for gold, then to British Columbia for the same reason, but eventually settled in Lincoln County, Washington, amassing a farm and cattle ranch of more than 3000 acres. When he retiredin 1910, he traded his land for a new Spokane business, the Empire Hotel at Riverside and Division.
The Densow family was influential in business around the Inland Northwest for much of the 20th century. Louis Densow, born 1880, came west from Wisconsin in 1902 and ran a Ford dealership and other businesses in Wilbur and Pullman, Washington. He retired to Spokane in 1932. His son Bert, a pharmacist who trained at Washington State College and who started work in Wilbur in 1920, bought the venerable Joyner’s Drug Store in the Rookery Block in downtown Spokane in 1944.
For the opening of Expo ’74 40 years ago, a contest was held to rename the nearby street. Robert Greider suggested the name “Spokane Falls Boulevard” as the new name for Trent Ave. between Division St. and Monroe St. Greider, born in 1897 and who arrived in Spokane in a buckboard wagon in 1902, thought the name had a historical ring to it.
The Mearow Block, which spans the 200 block of W. Riverside and Sprague Ave., is named for Joseph A. Mearow, who was born in 1870 on a Minnesota farm to a family with 14 children. He settled in Spokane in 1903 to do real estate, then started Bell Furniture in 1912.
The Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in Spokane in 1881. It was a milestone that started Spokane’s meteoric rise to eclipse Walla Walla as the commercial center of the inland region. John Bigham, born in New York in 1835, was in the right place to expand with the growing city. After living, farming and running businesses in New York, Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota, his new business, Pacific Transfer Co., became the baggage handler for the Northern Pacific, whose tracks ran between First and Second Ave. through downtown Spokane.
Brothers Vivian and Bert Nims ran cafés in Spokane for 30 years, starting in 1915. Their most prominent location was 118 N. Stevens St., beside the Old National Bank building. Nims Café was a 24-hour joint in the Levy Block that opened in 1922 at the height of Prohibition.
Dentists in early Spokane could ease the patient’s pain and anxiety with laughing gas, ether or various formulas of cocaine and morphine, but chances are you avoided the dentist until the pain became unbearable. “Extractions! 50 cents!” read the signs outside the New York Dental Parlors office. “Painless!” was touted in every ad. Novocain wasn’t sold until 1906.
The former Dodd Block was named for Charles H. Dodd, who was born in New York City in 1838. At age nine, he went to live with a well-to-do family in Stamford, Connecticut and he received an excellent education until the age of 16, when he entered Yale College. After two years there, he was recruited to build the new railroad through Panama in 1855. Later he worked for a shipping company and traveled extensively around South America. During the Civil War, he served in the Esmeralda Rifles, a California-based infantry unit that suppressed Indian uprisings in the Southwest states.
Since developers built the first homes on Spokane’s South Hill, getting people home in the winter was a problem. Early streetcars climbed with the aid of a cable that ran under the roadway. Drivers used to chain up before trying to climb Bernard St., Freya or Grand Blvd.
There have been Jewish people in Spokane at least since businessman Simon Berg set up a dry goods store in 1879. Recounted in a 2008 article by writer Jim Kershner in the Spokesman-Review, a group of mostly German Jews formed a Reform congregation and met in private homes until they built Temple Emanu-El at Third and Madison in 1892.
Barnett “Ben” Goldstein often said he and friend Harry Lubin and were born in “the old world” in Vilna, Poland. “We were playmates and fostered the same ideals. We looked together to America for our chance,” said Goldstein in 1938. The two set out for the “new world” and after stops in London, New York, Seattle and Tacoma, the two decided to pool their money and become farmers and homestead in Idaho. But they only got as far as Spokane and soon opened a retail business called New York Outfitters in 1909.