When Tammy Arndt purchased the Harry and Ella Skinner House overlooking Corbin Park three decades ago to open a bed and breakfast, she became a steward of history.
The Queen Anne style home – built 117 years ago by Harry J. Skinner, a prominent contractor and employee of Spokane pioneer D.C. Corbin – became a catalyst in encouraging builders to construct more than 80 homes in the early 1900s around the park.
The homes now comprise the Corbin Park Historic District and are listed on the Spokane, Washington State and National Registers of Historic Places – a designation for architecturally and historically significant buildings.
Arndt’s residence is one of four historic homes opening its doors for the Spokane Preservation Advocates’ 19th Annual Historic Home Tour, on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. in the Corbin Park Historic District between Park Place and Waverly Place.
The tour will also feature the Vernon Cook House, the Laber-Thomason House and the Melde-Johnson House.
Historic preservation consultant and historian Linda Yeomans, the SPA 2018 historic home tour chairwoman, said the Corbin Park Historic District is unique because it’s the largest district in Spokane containing homes listed on the local, state and national registers.
“Most historic districts are only on the National Register of Historic Places, like the Rockwood neighborhood,” she said. “Here, we decided to only have the houses that face the park as the most architectural significant and historically significant.”
Arndt along with husband, Lou Dolan, and her mother, Margie, operated the Waverly Bed and Breakfast for 26 years at the Harry and Ella Skinner House, which generated funds to pay for extensive renovation work to the home including painting, refinishing woodwork, repairing walls and restoring bathrooms.
“It’s a great house,” Arndt said. “We never wanted to come and turn it into a business where it couldn’t be a family home. The goal was always to preserve it as a family home.”
Arndt said operating the bed and breakfast also served as an opportunity to share the home’s charm with others.
“We had lots of people who probably didn’t know that much about historic homes stay, visit and experience it, and I think that’s the other part of the stewardship,” Arndt said. “You’re sharing something and raising the knowledge of what these houses represented.”
Arndt’s home has a storied history that involves a love story.
It began with Corbin Park, a former fairground site for the Washington & Idaho Fair Association in the 1880s, which included a race track, 30 horse stalls, a grandstand as well as a baseball diamond inside the track where games were played in between races.
The land was deeded to the city of Spokane in 1889 by owner D.C. Corbin, a wealthy railroad tycoon and entrepreneur, who proposed a public park. Corbin Park was subsequently developed from a plan rendered by famed landscape architectural firm, the Olmsted Brothers (their father designed New York’s Central Park).
Corbin then sold the lots of land around the park, with the first lot sold to Skinner.
Skinner had worked with William Wallace Hyslop, a young architect from Minnesota in 1897, who is responsible for designing several notable residences in Spokane, including the Avenida Apartments in Browne’s Addition.
Hyslop met Skinner’s daughter, Elsie, and was smitten. He asked for her hand in marriage, but she rejected him. Hyslop left Spokane for three years and returned in 1900 to design the Skinner House.
While designing the home, Hyslop was reunited with Elsie, and they were married in 1904. That same year, Hyslop designed a house for her at the west end of Corbin Park, a few doors north of the Skinner House. They raised two children in the home before Hyslop died in 1917. Elsie lived in the home until her death in 1944.
Although Arndt no longer operates the Waverly Bed and Breakfast, the Skinner House remains a centerpiece of the neighborhood by participating in SPA’s historic home tours and during Christmas, where the community gathers in front of the home for carriage rides and caroling around Corbin Park.
“Our historic district is not only about taking care of these old homes, but it’s about building community here in Corbin Park,” she said.
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