The Germond Block at the northeast corner of Sprague Avenue and Lincoln Street is one of the most important historic buildings in Spokane.
It arose in 1890 from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1889 and has survived its own fires over the years.
Now the owners are finishing a historically accurate restoration, converting the upper three floors into 18 luxury apartments. Work should be completed by May 1.
Owners Joel and Jon Diamond hired one of Joel Diamond’s longtime friends, Ron Wells, for the job. Wells is a well-known restoration developer and contractor in Spokane.
“This is first class,” Wells said as he moved toward a spacious two-bedroom unit on the second floor. “Joel wants them to be the nicest apartments in Spokane.”
A solid wood-paneled door opened, revealing a polished quartz threshold and bamboo wooden floors. The unadorned brick walls show blackening from one of the historic fires inside the building, which include an Independence Day blaze in 1963.
Two large, double-hung windows are adorned overhead with arched transom windows. The transom windows had been boarded up in previous remodeling but are now open to light again.
All of the windows are historically correct and were manufactured by Pella Windows at a cost of $360,000.
Wells’ architect Daniel Lazarek said the spending on the windows demonstrates the Diamonds’ “commitment to doing it right.”
Polished quartz also is used for the window sills and the spacious island countertop. The kitchen, which is open to the living room, has a top-end gas range and refrigerator-freezer.
The Diamonds – owners of the Diamond Parking empire – bought the Germond Block from Della Travo and her family in 2005 for $1.7 million.
The Travo family for years ran Travo’s Restaurant from the corner commercial space.
Jon Diamond said he and his dad tried for years to rent out the upper floors for office use but finally gave up.
He said there is a stronger market for upscale apartments now, which prompted the decision to undertake the historic restoration. He said the finished product will be unique for Spokane.
The restoration removed old wall coverings and lowered ceilings.
“Ron did a good job of opening it up,” Jon Diamond said.
Rents could run more than $2,000 a month. Goodale & Barbieri Co. is handling property management.
In addition to the apartment conversions, the restoration involved restoring the original arched entryway that had been covered with a 1970s “marblecrete” material. The brickwork now shows the fine detail of the original construction.
Inside, staircases are being restored accurately, including the grand staircase starting on the second floor.
The building was placed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places in 2008 and on the state and national registers last year.
The national listing will allow the Diamonds to qualify for federal historic tax credits.
A local register nomination report said the building was erected for $50,000.
Eugene Germond, who was born in Switzerland in one of its French-speaking cantons, came to Spokane about 1885 and went into the bar business with a partner.
He had a reputation for carrying some of the finest liquors in the region, including Guiness beer in jugs and absinthe.
When the Great Fire destroyed his first bar, Germond erected the Germond Block and opened his Log Cabin Saloon on his own. It is one of 15 buildings that have survived from the construction boom following the Great Fire.
In the old days, it was said people came from 150 miles away to visit the saloon that carried Spokane’s first supply of Anheuser-Busch beer at 5 cents a glass.
Germond was described as “virile and chunky,” and in early years wore a French-style beard.
He married a woman of color. The two subsequently were ostracized.
Germond, who made other real estate investments, lost his holdings in the financial Panic of 1893. His mental health deteriorated. He shot himself in the head but survived. He died in 1926 at what was then the insane asylum at Medical Lake.
According to the local register nomination, Germond’s wife ended up in the county infirmary in Spangle, where she died in 1934. In her possession was a locket with a picture of her husband and this notation: “Eugene Germond, Germond block Spokane, October, 1903.”
The nomination said, “She remained faithful to her old love.”
Brothers Mike, Frank and Tony Travo bought the building in 1945, according to historic news stories. The family ran their corner restaurant for 57 years.
The restaurant space is being readied for an upscale burger place, Jon Diamond said.
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