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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Arbor Crest rebuilds Cliff House, staying true to original style

KOP Construction worker David Way frames in a window Tuesday as part of the historical reconstruction of the Cliff House at Arbor Crest.  (Colin Mulvany)
KOP Construction worker David Way frames in a window Tuesday as part of the historical reconstruction of the Cliff House at Arbor Crest. (Colin Mulvany)

The historic Cliff House at Arbor Crest Wine Cellars is rising from the ashes – literally – after a fire gutted the 1924 building in December.

The damaged mansion was dismantled down to its mortared rock foundation in recent weeks, with significant pieces of the old building set aside for use in the historical reconstruction.

Wood and steel framing were placed on a new concrete slab inside of the former rock foundation. New walls are now awaiting their final layer of replica stucco.

Workers on Tuesday were getting ready to raise newly engineered roof trusses. Completion of the work is expected in November.

“There was so much damage to the timbers and support walls, there was no way to retrofit,” said Jim van Loben Sels, general manager of the winery.

The exterior is going to be a replica of the Italianate/Mission-style mansion – sometimes described as Florentine – which stood prominently over the Spokane River valley east of Argonne Road.

Interior spaces have been redesigned to meet updated needs, including offices, bedrooms, a board room, gathering areas, a new kitchen and tasting bar.

“It’s a place for us to entertain,” van Loben Sels said.

“Our goal has been to make it look the same, but use a little more modern materials.”

Two vertical steel trusses of 21-inch-wide I-beams are anchoring the building.

The old foundation was left in place and will be incorporated into the new structure as a façade wall on the lower level. Roofing tiles and rock chimney stones were set aside and will be reattached to the exterior.

An old sun porch has been brought inside the lower level and will show off its arched rock openings from inside.

The project also involves upgrades to the electrical service and a required 30,000-gallon water tank to provide 30 minutes of water supply in case of fire.

Firefighters on Dec. 23 had to haul water in tankers to stop the accidental fire that began in an electrical power strip.

Initially, it was believed that restoration was possible, but van Loben Sels said his structural engineer and architects explained that restoration would be two to three times as costly as new construction. The decision to abandon restoration in favor of reconstruction was emotionally difficult for the owners, he said.

KOP Construction is the general contractor and the design team is Blue Room Architects & Design and David Randall, all of Spokane.

Reconstruction is going to cost nearly $650,000 not counting design, loss of business and damage to contents. The loss is insured.

Arbor Crest has continued its popular summer concert series, with more than 700 people turning out last Sunday. The winery is using a tent purchased for the season. Attendance has held steady, but wedding bookings have been down, van Loben Sels said.

The mansion and grounds were purchased in the mid-1980s by brothers David and Harold Mielke, who developed the campus as the headquarters and tasting facility for Arbor Crest and placed it on the Spokane Register of Historic Places.

Arbor Crest’s winemaker is Kristina Mielke-van Loben Sels, the wife of Jim van Loben Sels and daughter of Harold Mielke.

She has continued to produce quality wines and recently received a series of strong ratings from Wine Enthusiast Magazine in a taste test done by Paul Gregutt, a wine expert whose column appears in The Spokesman-Review.

Gregutt gave a 92-point rating to the winery’s 2007 cabernet sauvignon from Stillwater Creek Vineyard and 91 points each to the 2007 Merlot Four Vineyards and 2008 syrah wines.

The winemaker said she expects the 2009 and 2010 vintages to both produce high quality wines, which are made at a facility near Frederick Avenue and Havana Street.

“It feels like things are just coming together now,” she said.

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