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Tuesday, October 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Alberta Apartments

The Alberta Apartments were built on railroad right-of-way property in 1910 just a stone’s throw away from the tracks through downtown Spokane. Like most downtown housing, they were built during Spokane’s boom years, which lasted until around 1915.

The building at Second Avenue and Madison Street had 30 single and double rooms at modest rates and retail space facing Second.

During Spokane’s boom period of 1895 to 1915, tens of thousands of workers had flooded into the city to find jobs and the city had responded by building more than 150 single-room-occupancy hotels for the new residents. Spokane rapidly grew from 36,848 in 1900 to to 104,400 in 1910.

The Alberta was only blocks away from the city center, but the area deteriorated quickly as people moved away to the suburbs outside the downtown core. In the post-World War II era, suburban flight left the elderly and hard-luck cases in the hotels designed for the city’s transient populations.

As the area became more seedy in the 1970s through 1990s, crime in the neighborhood increased. In the ’90s, drug dealing, prostitution, gang-related crime and graffiti on West First Avenue was common around the Otis Hotel and the Coach House restaurant near the Alberta. The police and locals just called the area “the Block.” Starting around 1996, cops cracked down on these crimes that discouraged visitors from walking the downtown streets. Nonprofits like the Alberta Homeless Project tried to use the old Alberta building to provide services to the homeless in 1990. Their idea was to house people for 90 days or so, then encourage them to find permanent housing. The group also helped renovate the old Merlin Hotel, which is now Spokane Dream Center’s Men’s Discipleship/Life Recovery program.

Another downtown church, City Gate, purchased the Alberta Apartments in 2000. It’s now used for both a church headquarters and housing the homeless, a food bank, a meal service and a clothing bank for the hungry and destitute. Tuesday through Friday, the church is a daytime drop-in center with coffee and snacks for those who need a place to go.

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