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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Preservation work on historic Campbell House moves inside

Printed burlap wallcovering in the game room of the historic Campbell House is showing signs of wear; small sections have unraveled.

It seems as if visitors to the house – part of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane – have been loving the fabric by touching it or rubbing up against it.

Fortunately, the damage is limited and repairable, according to two expert conservators hired this week to assess the extensive textiles in the 1898 mansion, built for mining magnate Amasa Campbell and his wife, Grace Campbell, in the heart of Browne’s Addition.

D. Katie Powell and her husband, Mitchell Powell, of Portland-based MPF Conservation, spent two days inside the Campbell House this week evaluating the textiles as the first step in restoration.

They found that the fabrics inside the house at 2316 W. First Ave. are in good to excellent condition, they said.

“I think Spokane is very fortunate to have a place like this,” Katie Powell said.

She marveled at the metallic stitching used in velour drapery.

“You don’t see metallic thread any more,” Powell said. “You see it in palaces.”

“It’s original to the house. It’s in good condition. I’m seeing just a little bit of fading,” she said.

The Powells have provided analysis to numerous historic homes, including the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, and the McLoughlin House in Oregon City.

Katie Powell said some of the fabrics next to the south-facing windows are in surprisingly good condition for their location, and for textiles that are 118 years old. She credited the museum with taking care of the place.

Among the problems, a printed tapestry used as a wallcovering in the entry vestibule shows relatively minor stains from water damage, she said.

Plaster beneath gold gilt burlap on the entry walls and ceiling has some soft spots.

Pigskin applique on one of the draperies has small spots that could be the start of leather rot.

Back in the game room, some kind of salt substance had worked its way into the printed burlap next to a fireplace. Katie Powell recommended a “dry erase” product to lift the stain.

As for the threadbare sections of the printed burlap, she had another fix in mind to fill the gaps.

“We can infill it so that it looks good and stays intact historically,” she said.

Mitchell Powell took measurements of the moisture content in the walls and found that, for the most part, the Campbell House is dry.

Moisture in the basement game room walls was around 4 percent. That’s good for keeping the old house alive, he said.

During the exam, the Mitchells took photos and samples that they plan to analyze back in their Portland lab.

Their final work will include a plan for long-term preservation.

Marsha Rooney, senior curator of history at the museum, said the textile preservation is part of the ongoing work needed to keep the Campbell House in its original condition for future generations.

About $1 million has been spent on preservation in the past 30 years, she said. Sandstone repairs took place in 2008. A new cedar shingle roof was installed last year.

Much of the funding for preservation and maintenance comes through the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, a state agency founded in 1916 and the parent of the MAC.

Donors are also a substantial source of funds.

The Campbells’ daughter, Helen Campbell, gave the house to the historical society following the death of Grace Campbell in 1924. It was converted to house historical displays and later restored as a house museum.

Most of the original features have been restored and preserved, including lighting, a dumbwaiter and a cookstove.

Furnishings have been acquired from numerous sources, including Campbell family members. Some of the items were originally purchased by the Campbells on trips abroad.

Two Tiffany lamps once belonged to famed restaurateur and hotelier Louis Davenport.

During original construction, swatches of the interior fabric decorations were saved and noted in a decorator plan, which the museum holds as part of its collections.

Rooney said the plan, which looks like a scrapbook, includes a small piece of the pink moire silk used in the formal reception room.

The plan proves that the home has original finishes. “The plan was followed,” she said.

Rooney said the museum wants the Campbell House to tell the story of the region’s past. The challenge is minimizing potential deterioration and damage as years go on.

“We are trying to make the house accurate,” she said, “and we want to tell the story.”