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Monday, March 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Manito Church, nominated for historic register, patterned after famous Italian basilica

The Manito United Methodist Church on South Grand Boulevard looks a little bit like the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, and the resemblance is intentional.

Designed by renowned Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter as a replica of the Basilica in Assisi, the Manito church is being being recognized through a nomination to the Spokane Register of Historic Places.

The nomination was approved last week by the Spokane City-County Historic Landmarks Commission and is now headed to the City Council for a vote in the next few weeks.

Cutter is famous for Spokane landmarks such as the Davenport Hotel, Spokane Club and Chronicle Building.

The Manito United Methodist Church prominently features a tower at just under 60 feet , which is a distinct reflection of the Basilica in Assisi. The tower features triple groupings of arched openings just below a low-pitched roof.

“The thing I see the most when I visually look at the building is that square tower,” said Linda Yeomans, the historic preservation consultant who wrote the nomination. “I wondered, Where did that come from?”

“It has such a Roman flair to it, a Mediterranean flair to it,” Yeomans said, and is unique in Spokane.

Turns out, its construction in Spokane was inspired by early church members who had made money in real estate and had traveled to Assisi.

Seymour and Mary Birchvisited the basilica, today considered one of the most sacred sites in Christendom. St. Francis was canonized in 1228, two years after his death. Today, he is associated with the protection of animals and the environment. The church custom of blessing the animals is often timed to his feast day on Oct. 4.

The Birches contributed three city lots and cash to build the church in 1923 and 1924. The value of the gift was estimated at $40,000 or more, which in today’s dollars would be $480,000, Yeomans said.

The St. Francis basilica includes a stained-glass rose window that looks like an eye on the building. Birch had a stained-glass rose window placed in the Manito church at the choir loft level to commemorate his late wife.

Both of the Birches died before the church was completed.

The church was originally named the Manito Methodist Episcopal Church, which by custom becomes its historic name.

At the entry, a “pediment is distinguished with a sculpted concrete bas relief ornamentation featuring an image of an open Bible,” according to the nomination.

The interior of the church has a fairly simple look. Stained glass windows along the walls provide the main artistic flair. Those windows were purchased by other church members during original construction.

In the late 1950s, church officials built an “education wing” in the mid-century modern design that housed classrooms, offices, a library, and a chapel. The addition was designed by architect George Rasque, who is also celebrated in Spokane for his work. Today, that wing is used by community groups, including Scouts and a Montessori school.

Wendy Budge, a church member who is working on the historic listing, said that church wants to support the community in whatever way it can.

She also said that the church wants to open the 1924 structure so that Spokane residents can appreciate it.

Budge is a member of the Landmarks Commission. She abstained from voting on the church nomination.

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