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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New Urbanism Group Mines Spokane’s Former Glory City’s Growth History Could Help Spokane Horizons Map Future

At the turn of the century, one of Spokane’s nicknames was “The City Beautiful.”

Newspaper and magazine articles often pointed to Spokane, not just for inspired architecture, but for the spirit of the community and the beauty of its natural environment.

“We had a tremendous vision for Spokane. That vision has been lost,” said Spokane architect Glen Lanker. “But it’s not too late to regain it.”

Spokane Horizons volunteers are keeping in mind the city’s past as they create a plan for its future.

In 1889, just eight years after Spokane was incorporated, a sweeping fire erased much of the young city. It spelled disaster for some, opportunity for others. One of Spokane’s best-known architects, Kirtland Cutter, began his career here that year.

John J. Browne, A.M. Cannon and James Glover already were well into their developments. Browne’s Addition quickly was gaining a reputation as one of the ritziest places to live in the Northwest.

In 1908, Western Architect magazine wrote: “Spokane is a wonder to the tourist and the sightseer. Broad-minded liberality in planning, together with daring foresight, enterprise and energy, and patience and thoroughness in execution are the qualities that met in the building of Spokane.”

But even in the early 1900s, the city battled the same growing pains it faces today. From 1889 to 1909, the city passed seven bond issues for water, garbage disposal and bridges. Increasing numbers of cars brought street grading and paving.

The potholes of today were nothing compared to those of early years, said Teresa Brum, director of the city and county historic preservation office.

With more houses grew the need for more water and sewer pipes.

While streetcars allowed residents to move farther out, many still lived in a bustling downtown.

In 1911, Spokane’s 100,000 residents approved a $1 million park bond issue “to be expended by the board of park commissioners for the extension and improvement of Spokane’s park, playgrounds and parkway system.”

The Olmsted brothers, landscape architects, were brought to Spokane to design a number of parks, including the formal plantings at Corbin Park, and neighborhood areas at Cannon Hill and Liberty.

They also designed the Rockwood development, specifically winding Rockwood Boulevard around the natural landscape, Brum said.

In 1921, a writer for Architect and Engineer magazine wrote: “There is undoubtedly much to be proud of in Spokane. Many of the buildings, parks and gardens … would be notable for their high merits in comparison with the best in any city in the country.”

In 1937, William B. Matthews startled the City Council with his proposal for a new subdivision - Rockwood Vista - with electric and phone wires underground and no sidewalks.

Asked about the lack of sidewalks, Matthews explained that “90 percent of the people living in higher-priced homes drive their own cars and all they want is a walk from their front door to the curb.”

The 24 homes on 11 acres off Vista Drive were approved.

After World War II, the rush to the suburbs was on. Vast housing developments, such as the Shadle area on the North Side, grew up almost overnight.

The trend continued for the next 50 years.

In 1995, Spokane County’s growth rate brought it under the control of the state Growth Management Act, which requires cities and counties to rein in sprawl and rethink development patterns.

“Growth is healthy, if we use it to enhance our quality of life,” said Lanker. “We have a tremendous foundation to build on.”

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