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Monday, July 13, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sunday paper is the end of an era as downtown press closes

Since before Washington was a state and before Spokane had an “e” on the end, its newspapers have been printed in downtown.

Today’s newspaper represents the end of more than 125 years of that tradition. Like all previous Spokesman-Reviews – and Spokane Chronicles, which shared the same presses for many of those years – it was printed on city blocks bounded by Riverside, Sprague and Monroe.

Tomorrow’s newspaper will be printed in a new facility in Spokane Valley on an advanced press more suitable to 21st-century needs.

Many readers won’t notice. The people writing the stories, taking the photos and designing the pages will be the same.

But a bit of history will end, and the newspaper will evolve.

“This is the beginning of a new era,” Publisher W. Stacey Cowles said. “It’s as much a beginning as it is an end.”

Frontier journalism

The Spokane Chronicle, which began as a weekly paper in 1881, was printed on a hand-operated press not far from where the Spokane newspaper buildings are today. One of its founding tenets was that the name of the fledgling town should be spelled with an “e” at the end, which was part of a heated dispute at the time, a history of the newspaper’s early days said in 1928.

The Chronicle changed hands several times and moved to different downtown buildings in the 1880s, and apparently used different presses as it went from a weekly to a daily in the growing town.

Its building burned in the fire of 1889 and the press was destroyed, but the publisher borrowed another press that was in storage north of the Spokane River, brought it to the burned lot and put out a paper.

The Spokane Falls Review, one predecessor of this newspaper, started in 1884, but its first edition was printed in Cheney, as former Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Kershner recounted in a story of the paper’s early days for HistoryLink.org. It later had a building, with a press, on the corner of Riverside and Monroe that escaped the fire, and the brick building with the tower later built in that location still stands.

The Spokesman, which started in 1890, was later merged with The Review – newspapers in frontier towns came and went or changed hands frequently – and moved into that brick building in 1893, although the paper didn’t become The Spokesman-Review until William H. Cowles bought out his partners in 1894, rebranding it in part as a way of signalling it no longer had the taint of partial ownership from Portland, Kershner wrote.

Cowles bought the Evening Chronicle in 1897 and moved it into The Review building, keeping the presses busy with separate morning and afternoon papers.

Jesse Tinsley - The Spokesman-Review

A press room with a view

For nearly a century local residents and visitors to the city could, at certain times, walk past the complex of buildings that housed The Spokesman-Review and Spokane Chronicle staffs to see pages whirring and hear machines humming as the afternoon or morning papers rolled off the presses.

Granted, they’d have to be up pretty late at night or early in the morning to see The Spokesman-Review press run, which typically finished around 3:30 a.m. But starting in 1928, the presses ran behind large windows, first in the Chronicle Building at Sprague and Monroe, and later across the street and the newspaper’s Production Facility.

As the two separate and competing newspapers outgrew The Review Tower, Cowles began planning a new structure for the Chronicle in about 1917 with famed architect Kirtland Cutter. But Cutter’s firm went bankrupt, a war intervened and the project was delayed. That white stone, gargoyle-topped building was finished in 1928 with eight new Hoe rotary presses occupying the basement and first two floors on the southwest side of the building.

The presses and third-floor linotype area where lead plates were created were among the many features the June 5, 1928, Chronicle extolled in an eight-page section marking the opening of the new building, described as English perpendicular Gothic style architecture. They could print a paper as large as 32 pages at a top speed of about 36,000 copies an hour.

The building’s exterior walls along Sprague and Monroe had large plate glass windows at street level where passersby could watch the presses run.

That press lasted until 1956, when it was replaced with a Goss Headliner, which could print a 72-page paper at 52,000 copies an hour. It had “all the latest improvements and facilities for high-quality newspaper printing with a multiplicity of advanced safety features,” The Spokesman-Review said in announcing the new press.

The Headliner occupied the same space behind plate glass windows on the southwest side of the Chronicle Building. Paul Schafer, who started at the paper in 1974 in advertising and scheduling, said many Spokane residents talked about coming out of a nearby movie theater and seeing the presses run.

Like its predecessor, the Headliner was also a letterpress operation, with heavy lead plates that pressed inked letters and images onto a page. It was a labor-intensive operation, with the curved plates made every day and fit on the rolling presses, Schafer said, and workers built like stevedores to handle them.

The newspaper added a second, smaller press, a Goss Urbanite, in 1966 on the other side of the Sprague entrance of the Chronicle Building, also with windows on the street side of the building. It was an offset press without the heavy lead plates, and better for printing color, and it was used for agricultural magazines the company published as well as a magazine added to the Sunday paper.

To set the color, the building had to add drying ovens and insulated towers to carry the heat out the roof.

Outgrowing its building

By the late 1970s, the papers needed a larger press with more capacity and the ability to print more and better color for ads and news photos, plus more space to handle advertising that was inserted into the paper rather than running in the news sections.

“It was getting old, and polluting,” recalled Shaun O’L. Higgins, a former newspaper executive who was Spokesman-Review assistant manager editor at the time. “It was the wrong kind of press in the wrong place.”

At the time, newspapers around the country were weighing whether to move some or all of their operations from expensive downtown real estate to other, less expensive locations.

“It was unthinkable that the newsroom would leave downtown,” Higgins said. With computerization, the newsroom and printing operations – which up to that point were connected by pneumatic tubes – could be separated.

But the publishing company owned the property across Monroe that was grandfathered in for industrial use. It built the production facility there for a new Goss Metro press with more capacity, more color and better color capability and the ability to expand to print as many as 200,000 papers a day, a reasonable goal for the Sunday papers at that time, Higgins said.

The building had plenty of space to store ad inserts to meet the growing demand and the machinery to insert them into newspapers after they rolled off the press.

The western wall of the building also had glass windows where the public could watch the new presses run. Even after the Headliner was removed from the Chronicle Building, one could still smell printer’s ink when it rained. The space the old press occupied was used over the years as the newspaper’s reference library and later commercial office space. It’s now a restaurant, and the space across the hall that once housed the Urbanite press is a wine tasting room.

Better color, more speed

The Goss Metro is an offset press, a better process for printing color. It began operating on Feb. 2, 1981, with 12 units, each weighing about 40,000 pounds. It could print papers as large as 144 pages, with a top speed of about 70,000 papers, The Spokesman-Review said when the building opened.

It printed the morning and afternoon papers until Aug. 1, 1992, when the Chronicle fell victim to the declining circulation that claimed many afternoon papers.

The Metro was improved several times over the next four decades, with towers that gave the printed product better color and allowed more pages to be printed in color. A page with a color photo that accompanies a news story or an ad runs through four different plates to print the black, yellow, blue and red inks.

In 2003, the newspaper expanded the production facility, moving its east wall out and adding bronze busts of a dozen famous city residents to the new brick structure. The new wall closed off the street view of the presses, although they could still be seen running from behind a glass wall in the lobby of that building at 1 N. Monroe

Printing technology evolved and newspapers changed significantly in the four decades since the Goss Metro was first installed. The Spokesman-Review never hit that projection of 200,000 papers, as newspaper circulation around the country declined. Papers have fewer pages, and fewer advertising inserts mean less storage space is needed.

New era for printing

As the Metro began approaching its 40th birthday, it was clear the publishing company needed a replacement.

“We don’t need these giant presses any more,” said Russ Snelling, operations and plant manager for Northwest Offset Printing, which will operate the new press.

“It’s not so much that they’re old. That press just doesn’t have the flexibility you need in the modern world,” said Tom Loesch, president of imPRESSions Worldwide, which buys and sells used Goss presses.

The Metro only handles one size of paper. It can print the entire run of a day’s newspaper in an hour, then sit idle for 23 hours, Loesch said.

The company sold and is helping install a Goss Magnum, which can print a newspaper as large as 32 pages in three sections, with a top speed of 35,000 papers an hour.

The publishing company explored putting a new press in the existing downtown production facility, Cowles said, but there was more space than the smaller press would need. The company concluded that wouldn’t be an efficient manufacturing system, and built a new, smaller facility in the Valley.

The story of the presses track the story of American newspaper publishing over the last century, Cowles said. Newspapers added more pages and increased circulation, which meant they needed bigger and faster presses.

That started to change in the mid 1990s and accelerated in this century. The advertising business also “radically changed,” he said, and newspapers now have to compete for advertisers’ dollars with very cheap digital platforms.

Versatility is more important than large capacity. The Magnum will take a little longer to print that day’s edition of The Spokesman-Review each night, but it will be busy the rest of the day with other jobs, Loesch said.

Cowles said it will be able to print other newspapers from around the region as well as glossy magazines with great photo reproduction on high quality paper.

“It’s all about new opportunities and looking forward,” he said.

One other difference for a newspaper press in Spokane, at least since 1928 when the Chronicle Building opened with its new Hoe press: The Goss Magnum isn’t new. It was built in 2004 and originally owned by the New York Times for its printing operations in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Times sold it several years ago, and it’s been in storage with imPRESSions Worldwide.

The Goss Metro, which printed some 14,000 days of The Spokesman-Review, as well as about 3,300 days of the Spokane Chronicle, printed its last paper Sunday morning. The presses, color towers and other machinery that does things like fold the papers after all the pages are printed – a system that weighs roughly 1 million pounds – is being sold for scrap.

There’s no market any more for systems so big and fast, but not versatile. The building will be leased to commercial tenants, which will include Dry Fly Distillery.

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