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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lighted Madonna remains in storage as plans emerge for 2019 display

For the third year running, the iconic display of Madonna and the Christ Child that lit a corner of the old Bon Marché building for decades will be stored for the holidays.

But the historic display should be up in time for the holidays next year, and at a new home: Cathedral Plaza.

Jonathan Mallahan, vice president of housing for Catholic Charities, said discussions were still underway with the Downtown Spokane Partnership, which owns the display, but said he was confident it will be up in time for the holidays next year.

“We anticipate that the Madonna will be back up and part of Spokane’s skyline in time for the holidays next year,” he said. “We’re looking forward to bringing the Madonna back to the Spokane skyline.”

Mallahan said the “intent” was to hang the display on Cathedral Plaza, the 15-story residential tower at Sprague Avenue and Jefferson Street just west of downtown. Catholic Charities owns the building and is doing $4.54 million in renovations over the next year to the structure, which provides affordable senior housing.

Two faces of the tower are brick, and Mallahan said the side that faces downtown would be home to the holiday display.

DSP has kept the 50-foot tall display in storage since taking possession of it in the spring of 2016, when Macy’s closed its downtown store and sold the building. Since then, it’s been stored with the Baldwin Sign Co., which built the display in 1956 and installed it over the following years.

Last year, the DSP asked city park officials about putting the display somewhere in Riverfront Park, but officials said any decisions would have to wait until the park’s renovation is complete in 2020.

Attempts to reach Mark Richard, president of DSP, for this article were unsuccessful.

The backlit, painted plastic display is a modern, Cubist-influenced image based on a hand sketch by an in-house fashion designer at Spokane’s Bon Marché. The display remained even as the store changed its name from the Bon Marché, or “The Bon,” to Macy’s in 2005.

In 2013, the sign company was commissioned by Macy’s to update the display with new panels and LED lights, replacing 500 incandescent bulbs with 1,000 LED lights, cutting the operating cost by 90 percent.

But installing the display cost $13,000 every year, and took six workers a day and a half to erect, said Joel Baldwin, former owner of the sign company who now does product management for it. The main illuminated display is made of eight parts, each of which weighs 400 pounds.

“It used to attach to that gold framework that was in front of the building,” Baldwin said. “But that part of the building has gone away.”

Following an extensive renovation, the building, now called The M, largely consists of residential units. It is owned and was redeveloped by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review. The corner face the display had been installed on now features apartment windows.

“It was a custom piece designed specifically for the building,” Baldwin said. “It’s kind of a challenge to find the right-sized building. It’s a bit girthy.”

Baldwin took over the business from his grandfather, who was commissioned by the Bon to build the Madonna. He said he was disappointed to not see the display again this year.

“Unfortunately, it’s not going up,” he said. “I miss putting it up, that’s for sure.”

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