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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rehabilitated or demolished? Chancery emptied of tenants; future uncertain

The Chancery building at 1023 W. Riverside Ave. is seen on Tuesday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
The Chancery building at 1023 W. Riverside Ave. is seen on Tuesday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A historic building that housed the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane for decades is being emptied of its tenants, but its future is unknown.

The owner of the ornate, three-story Chancery building near Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral in downtown Spokane terminated all leases in the building, which has stood for 109 years and housed the diocese for 53 years. Last month, the diocese purchased another historic building – the Heath Library near Gonzaga University.

Cowles Real Estate Co., the owner of what has long been called the Chancery building or Catholic Pastoral Center at 1023 W. Riverside Ave., terminated tenant leases in May after it “decided it is no longer economically viable” to keep the building open. The leases run through August.

“With the age of the building, many of the systems are nearing or past the end of their useful life including the roof, plumbing, electrical, elevator, and HVAC,” according to the lease termination letter sent to the Rypien Foundation, one of the tenants.

Cowles Real Estate is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review. The company did not share any plans it had for the building.

Doug Yost, director of real estate investments for Centennial Real Estate Investments, also owned by Cowles, would not confirm if the building would be rehabilitated or demolished.

“That building, the economic viability of that building is really a struggle,” Yost said in June. “We’ve been thinking about it for a long time. It gets to the point where we have to make a decision.”

Yost said the company is evaluating the building to “see what we can do and what concepts we can come up with. We’re going to look at everything.”

Megan Duvall, the city’s historic preservation officer, said the building is within the Riverside Avenue Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also in the downtown historic overlay zone, giving it more protection. Still, Duvall said there was little the city could do if the owners wanted to demolish the building.

“We don’t really have the ability to fully say no, but there are caveats,” Duvall said.

According to city rules, a historic building can only be demolished if a building replaces it. Plans for a replacement structure would be reviewed by Duvall and the Spokane Historic Landmarks Commission.

“It’s not super strong,” Duvall said of city policy protecting historic structures. “We have review over demolition. If it was coming toward demolition, we would have the ability to review it.”

Kent Adams, who ran his Spokane Talks Media out of the building before his lease was ended, said he’d heard rumors of the building’s future but was unsure of its fate.

“They’re closing the building. That’s what I heard,” Adams said, adding he hoped the building could be renovated. “I think they could gut it and do something with it. But let’s face it, it’s a prime downtown location.”

Adams said he appreciated having a home for his business, especially considering the free and, later, reduced rent he paid. For the first year in the building, Adams paid nothing. Until his lease was terminated, he paid a reduced rate.

“The rate’s been great. They gave us free rent over a year, but the rate they charge us per square foot is much lower than anywhere else downtown,” he said.

The building, an example of Italian Renaissance Revival architecture, was designed by famed Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter in 1910 and was expanded in 1924 by Gustav Pehrson, also a lauded Spokane architect.

Cutter is known for numerous Spokane structures, including the Davenport Hotel, Spokane Club, Patsy Clark Mansion and the Monroe Street Bridge. Pehrson’s work includes the Paulsen Medical and Dental Building, Centennial Flour Mill, the Roosevelt Apartments and the Chronicle Building.

For four decades, the building housed insurance companies, beginning with the Western Union Life Insurance Co., which gives the building its official name. In 1927, the Sun Life Assurance Co. took over and occupied the building until 1944, when Great Northwest Life moved in.

In 1966, the construction of Interstate 90 forced the local Catholic diocese to move from its building on Howard Street, which was in the way of the freeway. The diocese bought the building for $300,000 in 1966, and moved into the newly named Chancery building, sharing a block with many other buildings.

“As all the other buildings in the city block were progressively demolished, this remained, alone on a big parking lot in 1974,” according to the building’s entry in “Spokane’s Building Blocks,” a book of local architectural history. “The Cowles Publishing Co. plant was constructed in 1980 on the south major part of the block.”

In 2006, the diocese was forced to sell the building as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The money was used to repay creditors in the bankruptcy – people who were victims of child sex abuse by priests and filed claims totaling tens of millions of dollars.

Cowles outbid two other companies, and paid $2.05 million for the building.

The diocese remained as a tenant in the building until its lease was terminated this year. In July, the diocese purchased the Heath Library, 525 E. Mission Ave., for $1.65 million. The former branch of the Spokane Public Library, which Magnuson Hotels group owned since 2009, was built near Gonzaga University in 1914 with a Carnegie Foundation grant and remained a public library until 1983.

Earlier this year, Cowles announced it was closing its downtown newspaper printing press and moving those operations to a Spokane Valley industrial park it owns. Dry Fly Distilling is moving into the press building on Monroe Street.

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