A crowd of German American Society members gathered Sunday to mark the inclusion of their building, Deutsches Haus, on the Spokane Register of Historic Places.
The building at 25 W. Third Ave. in downtown Spokane has also been known as Turner Hall since it was built in 1897. It was briefly renamed Liberty Hall during World War II as members sought to distance themselves from Germany.
Club president Karin King spearheaded the effort to recognize the building, which has been in continuous use by the society since it was built.
“It has been quite a job,” King said. “It took a long struggle to get it all done.”
Many of the people who came to Sunday’s ceremony greeted each other in German. The Concordia Choir sang songs in German and English, and people snacked on German cookies and cakes.
Megan Duvall of the Spokane Historic Preservation Office said the building has had so many additions, changes and alterations over the years that it wouldn’t have qualified for the historic register normally. However, the city created a new category in 2018, Category E, for properties with cultural significance. Deutsches Haus is the first property in the city to receive a listing in that category, Duvall said.
The building is significant because it is the oldest surviving ethnic meeting house in Spokane, she said. “It’s that intangible heritage and culture,” she said. “This building has had a lot of changes.”
The original wood-frame building with clapboard siding was half the size of the current building and construction lasted only two months, she said.
“This building was built very fast,” she said.
The building, designed by Spokane architect Herman Preusse, had several large spaces that were intended for use in athletic competitions. The building was doubled in size in 1900, when a large stage and a dance floor were added to the south side. In 1914 a brick veneer was added to the exterior of the building, Duvall said.
Another addition, a one-story caretaker’s apartment and heating plant, was added to the south side of the building in 1936. A significant remodel, including the construction of a new entrance, was completed in 1983. The exterior of the building was painted white and false half-timbering was added to give it the distinctive southern German look it has today.
The historic designation now attached to Deutsches Haus means the society will have to submit plans for any exterior changes to the building to the city for a design review. The building will also be protected from future development.
“We can say no to the demolition of this building in the future,” Duvall said.
King has been working hard to preserve the German American Society and its building since she took over as president three years ago.
“My whole goal was to keep this building active and share our culture,” she said. “I realized if I didn’t take it over the people who built it were slowly passing away. They were talking about selling this building.”
The group was also having financial difficulties. King said she reapplied for nonprofit status, which had been allowed to lapse, and was able to turn things around.
“That got us out of the red,” she said. Membership has also grown from 75 to 150.
“People have hope now,” she said. “That was my biggest thing was to bring hope back to the club.”
Members pay only $50 a year to join. The society makes its money by renting the building, which includes an industrial kitchen and a full bar, for special events and gatherings. The club has a history of allowing anyone and everyone to use the building, King said.
“We rent to a variety of ethnic groups,” she said.
King said she was excited when a Bar Mitzvah was recently held in the building. “That just warmed my heart,” she said.
Now she and the society leadership have set their sights on their next goal: attracting younger members. King said they’ve made an effort to be involved in local events in recent years, including Unity in the Community.
“It’s the younger generation we have to bring into the fold if we are to survive,” she said.