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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: The Chemical Block

Among the energetic businessmen who dove in headfirst to rebuild Spokane after the catastrophic fire of 1889 were Cyrus Burns and John Chapman. Together, the men built more than 75 miles of railroad for various rail companies, including the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern. Their company, Burns and Chapman, once had more than 200 men on the job, laying rail.

Burns sat on the board of Spokane National Bank, as early as 1887, and was one of the founders of Spokane Drug Co. He was also invested in the new Washington Water Power Co., and the C&C Flour Mill.

Burns and Chapman built the four-story Chemical Block at the southwest corner of Sprague and Howard. The building’s first tenant, Burns’ drug company, inspired the name of the building because it was a multistory warehouse of pharmaceutical compounds that were mixed to create drugs. An 1890s advertisement promoted “Aphroditine,” a patent medicine to cure “loss of brain power, wakefulness, bearing down pains in the back” and a dozen more vague ailments.

Burns left Spokane and many of his business interests and moved to Lewiston, Idaho, in 1912. Chapman died in 1909. The two were responsible for four major buildings in downtown Spokane.

The Northwestern and Pacific Hypotheek Bank, a Dutch finance company that invested heavily in Spokane after the 1889 fire, still owned a large stake in the building and sold its interest to a Montana investor, F.R. Brown, in 1899.

After Spokane Drug left the building, Baum and Company took the main retail space on the ground floor in 1899, selling paint and construction supplies. The upstairs spaces were turned into residential apartments in 1901.

Through the first 60 years of the 20th century, other businesses here included Herman Loewenberg’s crockery, china, glass and tinware store, Spokane Savings and Loan, Spokane Florist Company, Rowles grocery and various cafés and restaurants.

In 1960, the building was demolished by the Spokane and Eastern Bank, part of Seattle First National Bank since the Great Depression, to provide parking for the bank across the street. A block north, the 20-story SeaFirst tower, along with a seven-story parking garage on the old Chemical site, opened in 1981.

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