The East Central neighborhood is a land of many faces. The continued growth and popularity of South Perry Street has driven houses prices to explosive heights. Off the hill, the area around East Sprague Avenue has spent generations being cut up and disconnected by roads, including the historic Sunset Highway, Interstate 90 and the coming North Spokane Corridor.
But the neighborhood’s fortunes are brighter, and not only due to Perry’s success.
The reputation of East Sprague Avenue has long been troubled, despite many attempts to renovate and rebrand the neighborhood. A decade ago, advocates tried to get us all to call the business district the International District. More recently, some in the neighborhood pushed to call it Union Park, a historic name that fell into disuse long ago.
But with unprecedented investment from city funding sources, and a renewed sense of pride, the area is being called Sprague Union, and its facelift is complete with a brand new street. With the historic Checkerboard Tavern just a few doors down from newcomers, such as Bennidito’s Brew Pub and the Ivory Table, there’s reason to hope. The landmark McKinley School was recently purchased and is being redeveloped with an eye to more retail and offices. Bookending the street is an affordable housing complex by Community Frameworks and a Frontier Behavioral Health clinic, both built in the last year.
And while highways from different eras isolated the community, the newly paved Ben Burr Trail, the University District Gateway Bridge and the extension of Martin Luther King Jr. Way are forging connections to the city’s core.
It’s not all wishful thinking. South Perry was a quiet strip of potential not even 10 years ago, similar to East Sprague now but far smaller. After the Lantern Tavern opened down the block from the longtime neighborhood coffee shop, The Shop, the street turned a corner.
Now, residents can get pie at South Perry Pizza, eat southern food at Casper Fry, grab a beer in the expanded Lantern or at Perry Street Brewing, gorge on deep-fried cheese curds at the nearby Wisconsinburger, buy clothes at Title Nine, tune their bike at the Bike Hub and more.
House prices followed the retail strip’s rise, with the area’s homes becoming nearly as coveted as those in Kendall Yards and other trendy parts of town.
Since its inception in the late 1800s, East Central has always been a working class neighborhood without the shine or influence of the upper South Hill or Browne’s Addition. But with the new shops, renovated homes, new trails for cyclists and walkers and a new outlook, the words “East Central” and “East Sprague” may take on new meanings.
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