Mike Allen still lives in the home where he grew up, three blocks north of Gonzaga University. It’s an old brick house in what was once a family neighborhood that has transitioned mostly into student apartments.
Allen, 64, was raised in a brood of seven children. Later, he and his Connie, reared two kids of their own in the six-bedroom house on East Augusta Avenue.
“I tell people I live in the Catholic ghetto,” Allen said. “It’s a great family home. I love the clinker brick and the woodwork and the double lot. I like a lot of things about the neighborhood, too – the mature trees are beautiful and with the central location we’re 10 minutes to anything in Spokane – but this area has really changed since I was a kid.”
Allen isn’t complaining, mind you, just stating a fact. The Gonzaga district has cycled through many changes since the residential area was developed in the 1890s. But the neighborhood clings to key elements of its original identity and remains attached as strongly as ever to the educational and religious institution that brought it into existence.
And that half-joking line about the Catholic ghetto? It was planned that way from the start.
It was Father Joseph M. Cataldo, an Italian-born Catholic missionary, who in 1881 paid 936 hard silver dollars for a half section of railroad land along the Spokane River. He saw great promise in the young frontier town sprouting around the big falls just downstream and envisioned this place as the centerpiece of educational and spiritual enlightenment for the Jesuit Order’s sprawling Rocky Mountain Mission. Cataldo’s intent was to build a college and call it Gonzaga, in honor of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, the Italian martyr who is the church’s patron saint of youth.
It took six years of struggle – over money, supplies, staffing and even a race with the rival Methodists, who were looking to start their own college in Spokane – but Gonzaga opened its doors in September 1887, welcoming 20 young scholars in that inaugural class. Gonzaga’s reputation and enrollment grew. Five years later, the college counted nearly 100 students from as far away as New York and California – but financial struggles continued.
Enter Father Leopold Van Gorp, reassigned from Montana to Gonzaga as the college’s fourth president in March 1893. The Belgian-born Van Gorp had distinguished himself in Montana, where one of his first postings was at Virginia City, early territorial capital of Montana. There, he conducted the Funeral Mass for Gov. Thomas Francis Meagher, the Irish-born Civil War hero who in 1867 disappeared mysteriously from a boat on the Missouri River and was believed to have been murdered.
Van Gorp had a strong head for business and was already procurator – essentially, treasurer – of the Rocky Mountain Mission when brought to Spokane to take over at Gonzaga. Just eight days after being named college president, Van Gorp got a third job when he was promoted to superior of the Rocky Mountain Mission – a territory encompassing all of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana – replacing Cataldo, who had led the Jesuits in the region since 1877. Suddenly, for the first time, one man was in charge not only of Gonzaga but also of the Jesuits’ seminary program and vast mission network – and he had control of the purse strings, to boot.
When Van Gorp arrived, he found a single overcrowded brick college building, an underutilized wooden church and a separate hall used as a dormitory and recreation facility, all sitting on a large parcel of riverside property at the edge of a booming young city. In short, the ambitious Van Gorp found himself facing both problems and opportunities aplenty.
Van Gorp was intent on honoring his longtime mentor Cataldo’s founding vision of Gonzaga as the center of Catholicism in the region. It also seems clear that after taking stock of his now multiple responsibilities, Van Gorp decided to delegate where he could to act boldly to ensure the future.
After appointing Gonzaga’s vice president, Father Paul Arthuis, to manage day-to-day operations of the college, Van Gorp started his tenure in Spokane by tackling a particularly thorny issue: the question of legal ownership of the land purchased by Cataldo. Both Gonzaga and the Rocky Mountain Mission claimed the increasingly valuable property – stretching from the river north to present-day Mission Avenue and from what is now Division Street east to the river’s bend near today’s Avista Corporation headquarters – as their own.
As president of the college and superior of the mission, Van Gorp was uniquely positioned to settle the matter – and quickly did. He granted eight acres to Gonzaga and the remainder to the Rocky Mountain Mission. Immediately, Van Gorp incorporated the Pioneer Education Society and deeded the mission’s property to that nonprofit entity to hold and develop. With the ink drying on that paperwork, Van Gorp set about planning and platting.
Money was tight and local business leaders who had lobbied so hard for Cataldo to choose Spokane as the site of his college had not come through with much financial backing.
“Jesuits in early Spokane were always mortified by the pettiness of their local support,” Father Wilfred P. Schoenberg wrote in “Paths to the Northwest: A Jesuit History of the Oregon Province,” his 1982 history of Jesuits in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
But if the Jesuits were cash poor, the Pioneer Education Society was suddenly land rich in a booming young city. Van Gorp soon was subdividing pieces of his holdings and hiring architects and contractors to begin building the first major residential district north of the Spokane River.
His purpose was twofold. By selling building lots and selling or renting homes newly built on the Pioneer Education Society’s property, Van Gorp could generate money for the the college and to support the training of Jesuit scholastics. Just as important, Van Gorp determined that by renting or selling homes and building sites to Spokane’s Catholic families he could create a Catholic community with Gonzaga at its very heart. It was a marketing plan that wouldn’t fly in an age of non-discriminatory housing laws, but which was successful at the time.
“Special efforts were made by Father Van Gorp to attract Catholic families into the neighborhood,” wrote Schoenberg, who grew up in the Gonzaga neighborhood before joining the Jesuit Order. “So well did he succeed in this, that the term Gonzaga district has become synonymous with Catholic.”
Indeed, no other neighborhood in the region was home to such a concentration of Catholic families and major Catholic institutions that have operated there: Gonzaga, Holy Names College, Saint Aloysius Church, Holy Names Academy, Bishop White Seminary, Saint Aloysius School, Knights of Columbus, Saint Joseph Orphanage, Saint Joseph Care Center for the elderly and infirm, plus convents for Holy Names, Dominican and Franciscan nuns and communal residences for the Jesuits, such as the Cardinal Bea House.
Van Gorp enlisted help from James Monaghan and Michael Cowley, Irish immigrants and area pioneers who early on befriended Cataldo and the Jesuits, and hired Spokane architects Herman Preusse and Julius Zittel to facilitate the planning and development of the Pioneer Education Society property.
An early plat map in the Jesuit archives shows blocks of residential lots around the college and a street grid that includes such familiar names as Cataldo Avenue, Van Gorp Street, DeSmet Avenue (named for Father Pierre-Jean de Smet, pioneer Jesuit missionary who arrived in the Rocky Mountain region in the 1840s) and Mission Avenue (which marked the northern boundary of the Jesuits’ Spokane mission).
Ground was broken in October of 1894 on the first of the homes Van Gorp built on Pioneer Education Society property. During the first year of building activity, he completed 30 homes, then ranging in value between $1,600 and $3,000. Monaghan and Cowley purchased home sites and marketed building tracts on behalf of the Jesuits. Earlier, Van Gorp donated a large parcel to the city for Mission Park. He also gave land to the Sisters of the Holy Names for a school for Catholic girls, while the land immediately south of the Holy Names site was sold for $1 to the Franciscan nuns, who built Saint Joseph Orphanage there.
In letters to the Jesuit General in Rome, Van Gorp outlined his intent, efforts and successes in attracting Catholic families. Regarding Saint Alyosius Church, he reported in 1896, “attendance is yet small owing to the fact that the remote neighborhood is sparsely settled. Residences however are being built close by and a very desirable class of families are seeking houses in our neighborhood, in view of the facility offered for good schools and church and thus the members of the parish are gradually increasing in number.”
Van Gorp went on to judge Gonzaga’s prospects “excellent” because valuable land was secured that would provide “financial resources” and allow it to be “surrounded by a good class of desirable and substantial families.” He predicted that the girls’ academy run by the Sisters of the Holy Names would draw even more Catholic families.
In 1899, Van Gorp reported to the Jesuit General that the Pioneer Education Society still held about 400 residential building lots, measuring 50 by 150 feet each, and noted, “These could be sold readily at present from $300 to $400 each but with time and proper management they will bring from $700 to $800 each and probably more.” A year later, Van Gorp wrote: “Gonzaga college has about 70 boarders and 100 day schoolers. While not formally excluding Protestant boys, we aim as much as possible at having only Catholic pupils.”
Among the Catholic families soon settling in the neighborhood were the Crosbys, who had relocated to Spokane from Tacoma. Harry Crosby, newly hired as a bookkeeper at the Inland Brewery, and his wife, Kate, arrived in the summer of 1906 with five children – including a 3-year-old son who would later pick up the nickname Bing.
The Crosby family moved into a rented house at 303 E. Sinto Avenue. Spokane was booming, its population edging toward 100,000, and the beer business was good. Within a few years, the brewery expanded and Harry was promoted to cashier, receiving a nice pay raise. Inland Brewing even offered to help the Crosby family acquire a home of their own. They chose to build in the Gonzaga neighborhood.
According to Gary Giddins’ 2001 Bing Crosby biography “A Pocketful of Dreams,” Kate in June 1911 secured for the family a building lot on East Sharp Avenue from the Pioneer Education Society “for the sum of one dollar and other considerations.” Inland Brewing underwrote a $6,500 mortgage, enabling the Crosbys – with additional financial help from relatives, including Harry’s nephew Lloyd, a Weyerhaeuser executive – to complete construction of a roomy two-story house just a block north of Gonzaga’s College Hall, the imposing brick-and-granite pile spread over two city blocks that was the largest building in Spokane when completed in 1899.
In July 1913, the Crosby family, which included six children with one more on the way, moved into the four-bedroom, two-bath home at 508 E. Sharp. The house was built with a welcoming front porch across its full width and second-floor bedrooms offering a view of the twin spires of newly dedicated St. Aloysius Church, a Preusse and Zittel design completed in 1911.
In his 1953 autobiography “Call Me Lucky,” Bing Crosby paints a fond portrait of the neighborhood of his childhood. “Dad thought it would be a fine place to raise his family,” Bing wrote. “He couldn’t have been righter.”
Crosby recounts roaming the close-knit neighborhood with his pals – ball games on the playground at Webster School, sledding on Lidgerwood hill, swimming in the McGoldrick Lumber Co. mill pond, pilfering pies from the back of a bakery wagon. He also writes with admiration about the priests of Gonzaga and St. Aloysius Church, where he served as an altar boy beginning at age 13. It’s said that Father O’Malley, Crosby’s character in his Academy Award-winning turn in the 1944 film “Going My Way,” was based on a priest he knew while studying at Gonzaga. Crosby’s Oscar, as well as his many gold records and other memorabilia, is displayed today at the Gonzaga-owned Bing Crosby House museum in the famous entertainer’s boyhood home.
Crosby attended Webster School, the public elementary school just down the street from the family’s home, because Saint Aloysius School did not yet exist. From there, Crosby would go on to graduate from Gonzaga High School and study law for three years at Gonzaga University before leaving in 1925 to pursue his fortune in Hollywood.
Perhaps nothing reflects the strong Catholic character of the Gonzaga district better than the fate of Webster School. Webster opened as an elementary school in 1900 to serve the growing neighborhood. But after the Sisters of the Holy Names and Saint Aloysius parish opened Saint Aloysius School in 1916, enrollment went into decline and the school was shuttered in 1940 for lack of pupils. The vacant Webster building was rented for a time to the Jesuits and temporarily housed Gonzaga High School. Following a 1945 fire, Webster was rebuilt and served Spokane Public Schools, then known as Spokane School District 81, as a site for trade school classes, special education programs and school district administrative offices. After once again sitting empty for several years, the property was sold at auction in 1962. The successful bidder was Gonzaga, which used the building until 2000 to house the university’s law school and law library.
“All of the neighbors were Catholic, and just about everyone had a big family,” recalled Mike Allen’s dad, Ray Allen, who settled in the area to raise his family shortly after graduating from Gonzaga University in 1950. “On our block there were 17 children and all of them went to school at Saint Al’s.”
“I was at Saint Al’s from 1959 to 1967 and there were always at least two classes for every grade,” said Kathleen Allen, Mike’s sister, who recently retired as assistant dean for library services at Gonzaga University. “Everyone went to the same school and the same church. In the summer, kids played ball together and we all went to Mission Park and the pool. … I honestly don’t think I knew anyone who wasn’t Catholic until I was in high school.”
Although the original Jesuit property extended north only to what is now Mission Avenue, those who grew up in the area say the Gonzaga neighborhood of their childhood included the area up to Indiana Avenue. “As a kid, you felt like you had the run of that whole area,” said Bill Stimson, an Eastern Washington University professor who was raised on East Sharp Avenue. “You knew everyone and every mom in the neighborhood knew who you were. If you were up to something and some mom came out on the porch and said, ‘Billy Stimson you go home,’ you did – and your own mom had already gotten a phone call by the time you got there.”
According to the city’s Community Development department, the Gonzaga area is part of the Logan neighborhood, a name borrowed from an elementary school about a mile northeast of the university at Montgomery Avenue and Hamilton Street. But hardly anyone who grew up there back when it was still a family neighborhood uses that term. “I’ve heard people call it the Holy Land or the Little Vatican, but we never called it Logan,” Kathleen Allen said.
The reason – beyond perhaps a sense of highly localized pride – is that the Logan designation came as a result of establishment of the city’s Community Development program, initiated in the late 1970s and early 1980s to help low- and moderate-income areas secure federal grant funding for neighborhood improvements.
“The Logan neighborhood itself didn’t exist back then,” said Mike Adolphae, a 1968 GU graduate who was Community Development director for the city from 1981 to 2012, when he retired. “When I was a student at Gonzaga in the ’60s, that area was known as either the St. Al’s neighborhood, for the parish and the school, or the Gonzaga district.”
Stimson, who grew up in a family of six children, traces his neighborhood roots back to 1912, when his grandparents, Louis and Theresa Stimson, settled on East Nora Avenue after marrying at Saint Aloysius Church. In 1919, Stimson’s grandfather died in the influenza epidemic, leaving his widow to raise three children on her own. Her neighbors made sure she had a job to provide for her family. “After my grandfather died, my grandmother did laundry and cooking for the Holy Names nuns,” Stimson said. “Part of that sense of community, I think, was that the neighborhood took care of its own.”
Catholic faith was the commonality, but there was still room for a measure of diversity, more economic than ethnic. That was certainly the case in the 700 block of East Sharp Avenue, where Stimson lived. The 1959 Spokane City Directory lists heads of households and their occupations: At 703, Paul Taylor, shipping clerk at Union Iron Works; at 704, Ira Fouts, teacher; at 707, Paul Huetter, professor; at 711, Augusta Thomas, widow; at 714, Frank Macri, retired laborer; at 717, Stimson’s mother, Frances, employed in housekeeping by the Sisters of the Holy Names; at 718, Raymond Kelly, Superior Court judge; at 723, Joseph Marton, postal worker; at 724, Regis King, IRS agent; at 727, Cyril King, treasurer of J.A. Brasch Masonry Co.
“You had judges living next-door to laborers and everyone was as neighborly as could be,” Stimson said. “Across the street from us was Judge Kelly, who I now know was a real legal heavyweight in Spokane. In the smaller house next to him was Mr. Macri, who was an Italian immigrant who raised chickens and rabbits in his back yard and made his own wine. Sometimes in the evening, Judge Kelly would go over and sit and sip wine on the front porch with Mr. Macri.”
The house on East Sharp Avenue were Stimson grew up is now gone, replaced by an investor-owned apartment building. The block immediately to the west, where Webster School once stood, is occupied by university-owned student housing.
Kathleen Allen said she first realized the neighborhood was changing in the mid-1970s, about the time she graduated from Gonzaga University.
“It wasn’t just that it was a family neighborhood, but that it was a family neighborhood where people stayed generation after generation,” she said. “And then out of the blue, to me at least, Holy Names Academy closed in 1975. That was a wake-up call. Things weren’t quite the same in the old neighborhood.”
Sister Maureen Healy, a Dominican nun who as a child lived in the 700 block of East Boone Avenue, just a couple of doors down from her grandparents, thinks the change began ever earlier.
“Gonzaga was growing in the 1950s and ’60s,” she said. “They needed land to accommodate that growth. My parents owned both our house and the house where my grandparents lived. We all loved the neighborhood and they would never have left, but the Jesuits came to my parents and said we need your property.”
Healy’s grandfather and uncle had both been employed by the Pioneer Education Society, helping build homes in the neighborhood. Her grandmother did laundry and cooking for the Jesuits and her grandmother also did housekeeping work for the Crosby family before the Crosbys sold their home on East Sharp Avenue and moved to California in 1936. Healy’s mother graduated from Holy Names College with a teaching degree.
“Father Cataldo helped bring my grandfather to Spokane,” Healy said. “We had a very deep connection to the neighborhood and to the whole Catholic community. Like it or not, my parents felt they needed to move because the church needed their property. It was their responsibility as Catholics to be supportive of Gonzaga.”
As part of the deal, the Jesuits helped arrange for the Healy family to buy another house near present-day Gonzaga Prep. They also offered to forgive the portion of her younger brother’s tuition at Gonzaga University not covered by scholarships.
The pace and pressure of growth has picked up in the past 20 years, said Chuck Murphy, longtime vice president for finance at Gonzaga and now the university’s chief strategist for campus planning and real estate. In 1999, total enrollment was about 4,000. Today, Gonzaga has 7,500 students. The university campus has grown in size from the original eight acres deeded to it by Father Van Gorp to 152 acres today.
“Some of that growth has spilled out into the neighborhood,” Murphy acknowledged. “There is a unique connection between Gonzaga and the surrounding community, and we try hard to be mindful of our effect on the area and respectful of our neighbors.”
Over the years, Murphy said, Gonzaga has gradually acquired neighboring property – primarily south of Sharp Avenue – to create a consolidated, cohesive central campus. The university owns property and has built student housing in the block immediately north of Sharp. But private investors capitalizing on the growing demand for student apartments within walking distance of the university might have had a larger effect.
“A lot of it comes down to simple economics,” Murphy said. “The value of those older houses is higher as investment rental property than as single-family homes.”
Murphy has seen change along the southern part of the university’s campus along the Spokane River that is every bit as significant as what has happened in the neighborhood to the north.
“Where you used to have industry – lumber mills and railroad lines – along the river, we now have lawns, trees, an art museum and a wonderful public trail that invites people to enjoy not just our campus but a beautiful stretch of river as well.”
In spite of all the changes Gonzaga has brought to his neighborhood, Mike Allen still views the university as a good neighbor.
“Most of the time, there is no problem at all with the students,” he said. “I think Gonzaga works hard to keep the peace in the neighborhood. And if there is a problem, like a party that gets out of hand, the university is very responsive. I wouldn’t even bother calling the cops, I’d just call campus security because they’re going to be here right now.”
This time of year, like a lot of people in Spokane, Allen looks forward to summer. “It’s so peaceful and quiet when the students are gone. You remember why you live here.
“It’s kind of like living on a golf course. It’s a great place to be and you can’t really complain when every once in a while a golf ball hits the side of your house.”
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