The bowels of the Interplayers theater in downtown Spokane look something like a flea market.
Used furniture lines the basement. Clothing is crammed on racks on the mezzanine. Empty paint buckets and electrical fixtures are scattered around.
After 29 years of entertaining people in Spokane, Interplayers is in need of a cleanup.
Members of the Spokane Preservation Advocates will bring its crew of volunteers to the theater Jan. 24 for a cleaning project, in part because the 8,200-square-foot building is a colorful piece of city history. Members of the organization’s “Doing It” group will be at the theater sorting, cleaning and painting from 9 a.m. to noon.
“This is help they need,” advocates President Gary Lauerman said.
The theater, at 174 S. Howard St., was built in 1923 as an Eagles Temple, and the popular nightspot attracted not only protest from a nearby church but also a team of safecrackers during the post-World War II years. It is listed as a historically “contributing” property within the East Spokane National Historic District.
When the temple was remodeled in 1946 to enlarge its operation, the pastor of the Central United Methodist Church just a block to the south complained that the club was serving liquor too close to his place of worship. The secretary at the Eagles responded that some of the pastor’s congregation frequented the club for an occasional drink, to which the pastor responded with a denial on behalf of the congregation.
In 1951, three thieves used a sawed-off, 10-pound sledgehammer and other tools to open the temple safe and make off with $6,000. They did not break into the slot machines, each of which held silver, according to a news report about the crime.
The remodeling changed the façade on its lower level, but the upper portion of the building retains the original architecture. Circles above the upper-story windows bear the initials F.O.E., for Fraternal Order of Eagles.
The Eagles left the building in 1960, and it was vacant until reopening as the Canterbury Inn nightclub in 1969, followed by the Land’s End Tavern in 1974. Murals in the basement indicate it may have been a martial arts studio, too. The building was vacant again in the late 1970s before reopening as Interplayers by theater founders Bob and Joan Welch in 1980.
Interplayers is the only professional theater in Spokane, outliving the Actors Repertory Theatre and CenterStage, both of which closed last year.
Jim McCurdy, president of the Interplayers board, said the building is too large for the needs of a 253-seat theater, which survives on subscriptions, sponsorships and advertising. The winter heat bill alone approaches $3,000 a month.
McCurdy said the nonprofit board about a year ago had the building listed for sale, with the goal of having a private owner redevelop the property for commercial uses, but with the hope of selling to someone who would lease back the theater portion on the second floor.
He said that Interplayers might also be willing to sell the building and move to a new location, using proceeds from the sale to ensure that Interplayers continues to operate.
McCurdy said the building’s excess space could be put to better use. “It’s a pretty expensive proposition to have just a nonprofit theater (in the building).”
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