Public education in Spokane started in the 1880s with two elementary schools and a high school on the site of today’s Lewis and Clark High School. These first public schools were built before the city’s population allowed for the formation of a school district in 1889.
The next school built was Irving School, named for writer and historian Washington Irving, on the lower South Hill. The school was paid for with the district’s first school bond levy of $250,000.
The district bought the 2-acre block bounded by Ash and Oak streets and Sixth and Seventh avenues on the South Hill for $3,600, and construction began.
Most of downtown Spokane burned to the ground in a great fire in August 1889. As Spokane rebuilt, the competition for building supplies and labor slowed progress on all the new schools. The elementary school opened in October 1890, more than a month later than expected. The school expected to enroll 200 students, but the district only hired four teachers, making some classes larger than 70 students. Between 1890 and 1900, the school district built 14 more elementary schools across the city.
Spokane’s first school for the deaf was founded in 1916 and was housed at Irving from 1926 and 1954. One of the first teachers was Edna E. Davis.
When Davis found that developmentally delayed and deaf children were taught in the same room, she separated out the deaf kids, who were only being taught to speak and read lips. Davis introduced sign language as early as she could. In 1954, a new school for the deaf was built across 7th Street from Irving so that hearing kids and deaf kids could still play together. The new school was named the Edna E. Davis School.
An addition to Irving was built in 1961, adding a gymnasium and cafeteria space.
By the early 1970s, the 1890 schoolhouse had significant cracks in the brickwork and was the oldest school in the district. Irving was closed in 1972 and torn down in 1973.
The 1961 addition remained and the Spokane Elks Lodge bought it. Today it is the Alano Club, a home for Alcoholics Anonymous programs.