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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Historic Browne’s Addition holds onto its roots: Neighborhood council seeks balance between old, new

After an old home was demolished to be replaced by a 15-unit apartment building, neighbors are looking into forming a historic district to have some control on the appearance of new buildings in one of Spokane’s oldest neighborhoods. Although there are many apartment buidlings, both old and new, large and small, in Browne’s Addition, but neighbors feel that some newer buildings can ruin the historic appearance of the neighborhood. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
After an old home was demolished to be replaced by a 15-unit apartment building, neighbors are looking into forming a historic district to have some control on the appearance of new buildings in one of Spokane’s oldest neighborhoods. Although there are many apartment buidlings, both old and new, large and small, in Browne’s Addition, but neighbors feel that some newer buildings can ruin the historic appearance of the neighborhood. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
By Terence Vent For The Spokesman-Review

Browne’s Addition is home to a diverse population that includes students, seniors, hipsters and artists. The neighborhood welcomes young adults looking to establish themselves, and empty nesters looking to simplify their lives.

“It’s an eclectic neighborhood,” said Rick Biggerstaff, Browne’s Addition Neighborhood Council chair. “We really value that.”

Located just west of downtown, Browne’s Addition’s boundaries are roughly Riverside Avenue to the north, Overlook Park to the west, railroad tracks along Sunset Boulevard to the south and Walnut Street to the east.

The biggest issues facing the Browne’s Addition council are the Central City Line, historic property protection and an action plan for Coeur d’Alene Park.

The Spokane Transit Authority pledged to give attention to the neighborhood’s historic nature when installing bus stops. “In their perfect world, all the bus stops would be identical,” Biggerstaff said. “But that doesn’t meet the neighborhood’s needs.”

The two sides have been ironing kinks out of the plan for the past four years. The principle bone of contention revolves around the placement of a scheduled stop at Cannon Street and Pacific Avenue in the middle of the neighborhood’s business district.

“Calculated, convenient stops are good,” said council vice-chair Kelly Lotze. “But obviously you have to weigh in all the effects.”

“If you remove the bus stop, humans have to walk about 300 feet to get a bus,” Biggerstaff said. “And you eliminate a lot of problems, including taking away our green space and street trees … and what we did to create that business sense around the traffic circle.”

He said the STA offered several design options for the bus stops at the latest meeting. The sides will continue to work toward an effective compromise.

Signature architecture

The neighborhood’s signature feature is its many massive homes, built during the city’s infancy. Nationwide housing shortages in the 1930s and 1940s led to a push toward smaller homes, on smaller lots, but Browne’s Addition – aided by a New Deal program – took a different tack.

“In a lot of cities around the country, (old homes) were just bulldozed and replaced. Spokane … didn’t have money to do that, so they took money from the government and cut ’em up (into apartments),” Biggerstaff said. “It actually kept the houses from being torn down.”

Because of its oversized lots, convenient location and high-density zoning designation, Browne’s Addition is catnip to developers. “They see these large lots,” said Biggerstaff. “They can put up a lot of apartment complexes,” Biggerstaff said.

Because of the neighborhood’s many landmark properties, the council feels the blow of every hammer.

“If the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture sold the Campbell house, somebody could take it down in 90 days and put apartments there,” Biggerstaff said. “I can’t stop it.”

The neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, took action after developers tore down an older home at the east end of Coeur d’Alene Park and put up townhouses and apartments in 2016.

The council and Spokane Historic Preservation Officer Megan Duvall are putting together a proposal to nominate Browne’s Addition as a local historic district. “We’ve just kicked it off,” Duvall said. “The bulk of the work should be done by the end of the year.”

“Collectively, we would write the zoning governance for what happens in Browne’s Addition,” Biggerstaff said.

Duvall has tentatively scheduled a vote on the plan for February 2019, to allow for a 60-day open comment period upon the proposal’s completion.

“It’s all within reason,” Biggerstaff said. “We can’t write anything so crazy that we’re not going to get the support of the neighborhood.”

“We want innovative developers to develop Browne’s Addition, not people just trying to throw something up real fast, to make money,” he said.

There are ways for modern buildings to match the neighborhood’s aesthetic. Lotze pointed to the Coeur d’Alene Townhomes development, on Fourth Avenue and Hemlock Street, as an example.

“As much as they are modern, they still have a historical appearance,” Lotze said.

Oldest park

Coeur d’Alene Park is the oldest public park in Spokane. The council, along with city planners and the Friends of Coeur d’Alene Park, completed a park revitalization plan in 2015. The first step was planting rows of street trees along Third Avenue from the east end of the neighborhood to Overlook Park.

The first two of four planned park entrances are under construction and are expected to be finished by early June, Lotze said.

Other planned improvements include tree thinning, exercise stations, a perimeter walk and improvements to the gazebo area.

The council recently announced the lineup for its 22nd annual Thursday concert series to run through July and August. “It’s a fun part of Browne’s Addition,” Biggerstaff said. “A good number of people come from outside of Browne’s Addition to attend it.”

One tradition will not continue in 2018: Event organizers, citing their desire to be good neighbors, elected to cancel what would have been the 14th annual Elkfest. Complaints from neighbors and local businesses prompted the decision.

“We took a vote, and the council was 100 percent unanimous in supporting Elkfest. (But) not everyone wants the same thing,” Biggerstaff said.

Every day, the park is filled with the neighborhood’s eclectic mix of students, seniors, hipsters, artists, young adults, empty nesters and – video gamers?

“We are a very Pokemon-friendly neighborhood,” Lotze said. “There are lots of PokeStops in the park.”

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