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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Restoration honors 124-year-old home in Peaceful Valley

The Pietsch House in Peaceful Valley was designed and built in 1891-92 by Franz Pietsch, a German immigrant who worked as a farmer, brick layer and mason. (Stephanie Pettit)
The Pietsch House in Peaceful Valley was designed and built in 1891-92 by Franz Pietsch, a German immigrant who worked as a farmer, brick layer and mason. (Stephanie Pettit)

One of the oldest homes in Spokane is not a mansion belonging to one of the mining or real estate barons whose names grace schools, streets and parks in the city. It is the Franz Pietsch House in Peaceful Valley, built by a German immigrant who worked as a farmer, bricklayer and mason.

The Pietsch House is a two-and-a-half story brick structure in a rare-for-the-area Italianate style that stands tall among the smaller one-story homes around it. It was designed and built by Pietsch in 1891-92 and is the oldest single-family home in Peaceful Valley, an area first developed as a working class neighborhood just west and downhill from downtown Spokane. There are not many homes older than this one in all of Spokane.

Well-cared for in its early years, the house was a vacant derelict for 40 years. It probably remained standing because of its solid basic construction – foot-thick brick walls supported by a 2-foot-thick foundation made of river rock taken from the nearby Spokane River, combined with cement and covered with a cut black stone veneer.

When she bought the house in 2001, Darcy Gravelle described it as scary, dirty and bare-bones, with the staircase gone and “pretty much a brick shell with studs.” Still, it was the house of her dreams and she remains grateful to Franz Pietsch for using his skills to build the solid home that he did.

“I don’t know this for sure, but I think the brick he used was salvaged from downtown buildings destroyed in the great fire of 1889,” Gravelle said.

According to the nomination form for the house’s listing on the Spokane Register of Historic Places, Franz Pietsch and his wife, Augusta, immigrated to Minnesota from their native Germany and then moved to Spokane, lured by the building boom that followed the fire. Like many skilled immigrant craftsmen, Pietsch found low-cost housing in the area known as Poverty Flats. He was one of the first to purchase platted land there, and with his sons set about building his home at 1647 W. Main Ave., also constructing two frame homes (now demolished) on the site for his grown children and to serve as rentals. One of the first African-American families to move to Peaceful Valley was a renter there, according to a recollection by a Pietsch descendant.

Each room in the main house contains a small wood-burning stove. There is no fireplace in the house, but there are three tall decorative chimneys rising from the roof. There is a formal parlor for guests and one for family, which Gravelle uses as a dining room. Four bedrooms are upstairs, with the smallest being converted to a bathroom when indoor plumbing came to the house in 1911. Two bedrooms have built-in closets, which were rare for the time.

Pietsch and his sons found work in the booming city and helped build such landmarks as the Davenport Hotel, Great Northern Clock Tower, Medical Lake Hospital and many downtown buildings. They also had extensive gardens, beehives and fruit trees on the property and sold produce to grocery markets in the city.

In time, the main house became a rental, which lasted up until 1960. Under new owners, it sat vacant for 40 years, during which time the interior was stripped bare and destroyed by vandals, according to Gravelle, a retired elementary school teacher from Kirkland.

Gravelle had been planning for retirement for a number of years and knew she wanted to live in a Victorian house. Also an antiques dealer, she had been collecting items for her ideal retirement home for many years. Assisting her by watching for just the right place was her sister Terri Gravelle, who owns the four-story Queen Anne Hanford Castle in Oakesdale, designed by noted Spokane architect Herman Preusse.

When the about-to-be-demolished Pietsch House became available, Terri notified Darcy, who bought it, refinancing her Kirkland home to fix it up so it could be habitable as a rental for three years until she retired and moved in – and that’s when she transformed it into the Victorian home she had in mind for years. There is care in all details – from wainscoting to wallpaper, old-fashioned gas stove in the kitchen, the upright piano she found in a ghost town in Montana, to all the fixtures she brought from her collection in Seattle. And she shopped regionally as well – for example, from a farmhouse in Spangle she purchased interior doors, siding and round windows for the carriage house she built on the property, an interior banister and more.

And she tackled the yard, hacking down 5-foot-tall thorny weeds, leveling berms and putting in a lawn, a dipping pool and both a kitchen and flower garden. She maintains her antiques business as a vendor at Tossed and Found on North Monroe Street – and is living the retirement life she always wanted in this home which was saved from the wrecking ball and is on both the Spokane and National Register of Historic Places.

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