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Tuesday, November 3, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Federal courthouse in downtown Spokane

The search for a site for a new federal courthouse in Spokane was in full swing in 1961. Federal agencies needed more office space than was available at the old federal building, which also housed the downtown U.S. Post Office. The post office and the federal court system also needed more space.

The city of Spokane was also hoping to build a new City Hall to replace the 1913 building at Wall Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard. A consulting firm suggested that a new City Hall and a new federal building be built together in a single complex.

But Spokane citizens failed to pass a $10.4 million bond to implement the consultant’s plan, and the federal building plan couldn’t wait. The General Services Administration chose the lot next to the venerable 1909 post office on Riverside Avenue.

Two buildings, the 1890 Dodd Block and the 1904 YWCA, stood on the site, but the structures didn’t inspire the preservation push that other old buildings did. The Dodd Block was a commercial strip of brick storefronts on Riverside Avenue facing the Review Tower, the headquarters of The Spokesman-Review. The YWCA building, facing Main Avenue, was the former Spokane Amateur Athletic Club.

Once those two buildings were demolished, building began with excavation more than 46 feet deep to establish proper footings for the nine-story building. The building would comply with the GSA’s Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture, a 1962 document written by future New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was then working in the Department of Labor. The document stated that architecture of federal buildings should reflect the “dignity, enterprise, vigor and stability” of the government.

Two architectural firms – Culler, Gale, Martell, Morrie & Davis, and McClure, Adkison, Walker & McGough – teamed to create the design. Even before the building opened, locals and other architects both panned and praised the aesthetics of the building. People picked apart every detail, from the color of the brick to the size of the windows to the gently flaring cornice at the top.

The building underwent a $45 million renovation in 2012 with extensive updates to the heating and cooling system.

The building was renamed the Thomas S. Foley United States Courthouse in 2001.

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