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Monday, September 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Landmarks: Chamberlin House

As Craftsman-style bungalows go, the Ernest and Anna Chamberlin House in the West Central Neighborhood of Spokane has two unique and distinctive features – one dominant and obvious and the other an artistic flourish expressed on both the exterior and inside.

Behind the intertwining flowers and plants in the cottage-style garden at the front of the house are four tapered front porch pillars and supporting walls made of smooth round river stones that were carried up the bank from the nearby Spokane River when the home was constructed in 1906.

More subtly, the bargeboards at the gable ends of the roof extend out with pointed ends containing a cut-out design artistically portraying the long and narrow beaks of sea birds. That design is replicated on window and door framework within the house.

This home, placed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places in 2015, was designed for the Chamberlins at 1228 N. Sherwood architect W. J. Ballard, brother-in-law of Ernest Chamberlin.

Chamberlin came up to Spokane from California in 1899 and developed a real estate construction company, which in 1904 became the Chamberlin Real Estate and Improvement Co., promoting the concept of buying homes on the installment plan and providing loans to help hundreds of people do just that.

Chamberlin’s company is credited with building 400-plus homes between 1900 and 1915, as well as developing apartment houses and other businesses. Most of the construction was in West Central, where more than 50 blocks were developed with single-family homes.

Architect Ballard built a variety of homes, specializing in cottages and apartment houses, and was also responsible for the Merriman Block, Wilson Apartments and Empire Hotel. His Ballard Barn and Silo agricultural buildings were built throughout Eastern Washington, according to a 1970 Spokane Daily Chronicle story.

The 1.5-story Chamberlin bungalow, which has been described as having a storybook appearance, may well be Ballard’s most notable achievement in home construction. Located just a block east of the bluff overlooking the Spokane River, it contains ebony fir woodwork, inlaid wood floors, boxed beam ceilings and a number of built-ins.

The Chamberlins lived there until moving to Spokane Valley in 1911, and the home had many owners since, some of whom altered the interior by closing off the original staircase and placing it elsewhere, putting in arched entryways and removing the front porch (installing stairs from ground level to door). And there was a period when it fell into disrepair and was put up for auction, when the house was overgrown with ivy and mice took up residence inside.

Current owners Catherine and Richard Grainger had been living in a rancher in the Mead School District but had always wanted a distinctive but smaller, older home. When their children were grown “we decided this was the time to do it or we’d just be talking about doing it for the rest of our lives,” Catherine Grainger said.

One day in 2003 they drove along Sherwood Street, and there it was. It was painted white with dark green trim, with a scrubby patch of lawn out front. But, oh, the possibilities. Grainger went to an open house a few days later armed with a tape measure, to see if her piano could get through the front door. “That house had me written all over it.”

After buying it, they went on rock runs – asking if they could pick up rocks at construction sites, which they stockpiled in the driveway waiting for spring. They tore out the front yard, and she got to work putting in her cottage garden, and putting those rocks to good use, eventually along the north side of the house and backyard as well.

Grainger designed new rock steps up to the front door and developed a breezeway between the stone pillars and the house where she and her husband sit in the cool mornings enjoying a cup of coffee. They painted inside and out, tore out burgundy carpet to expose the wood floors and, as budget allowed, made other improvements.

As it turns out, the piano did not fit through the front door, but it did through the back door.

Catherine Grainger recently retired from her position as career counselor and mentoring program developer with the Kalispel Tribe, and her husband Richard just stepped down as advisor and life coach at Excelsior Youth Center, which gives them more time to work in the garden and on the house and to entertain their grandchildren there.

“How lovely it is to create something that gives us such joy,” she said. “I’m never leaving this house until they carry me out on a gurney.”

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