When Jon Neill isn’t practicing law, he moonlights as a tour guide through one of Spokane’s most treasured architectural gems.
“When you work here you almost have to be a steward of Spokane history,” the attorney says of his firm’s offices in the historic Patsy Clark mansion built in 1897 by renowned area architect Kirtland Cutter for the mining magnate and his wife, Mary.
When clients, school kids or out-of-town visitors drop by the mansion during business hours, “we all give tours – it’s a treat,” Neill says.
Purchased by local law firm Eymann Allison Hunter Jones, P.S., in 2002 and meticulously restored by Walker Construction over the subsequent three years, the historic Browne’s Addition mansion and former home of Patsy Clark’s Restaurant was one of Cutter’s first projects here.
Neill says the firm moved into the building when the restoration process was approximately 75 percent complete. Although the noise of the work crews was distracting, Neill took the opportunity to learn more from the contractors about the mansion’s past.
“They knew a lot of the history through the research they had done as part of the restoration,” Neill said, adding that he soaked up as much as he could as the construction crews worked.
For example, Neill says he learned that as many as 75 carpenters worked on the mansion at once when it was originally under construction.
In addition, one of the electricians allowed Neill to see some of the mansion’s original light fixtures – those that weren’t functioning but still bore the Thomas Edison patent stamp.
“It was pretty amazing,” he says, adding that he often shares such anecdotes with visitors.
“I give the tour you won’t get from anyone else,” he quips.
Neill, an associate attorney at the firm, occupies a corner office on the top floor with a small door that opens to a turret overlooking Coeur d’Alene Park.
The room, adorned with ornate mahogany accents, was the mansion’s former “cloak room” situated to one side of the home’s original ballroom.
“I was beside myself when I was assigned to this office,” he says. “My own turret – how lucky am I?”
Neill says the move from the firm’s former quarters – on the eighth floor of the Washington Mutual Building – was a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
“It was like we were becoming country lawyers almost, where we can park on the curb and stroll into the office,” he says.
But working in a place with so much history also has its downside. Working alone after dark in the mansion—which includes at least one reportedly haunted room – can be creepy, especially the catacomblike basement.
“It’s freaky – I don’t want to kid you,” Neill says, recalling one late night when he had to close an exterior basement door that was ajar and maneuver through the pitch black to arm the security system. “It’s enough to send shivers down your spine.”
Still, Neill says he loves coming to work each day, knowing that he is doing his part to preserve a bygone era.
“It’s one of those responsibilities that we owe to Spokane’s history,” he says.
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