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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Warren Heylman, architect behind Parkade, airport and other iconic Spokane designs, dies at 98

Warren C. Heylman was sure of his path in life, even as a kid growing up near Cliff Park’s peak on the South Hill.

“I just wanted to draw,” Heylman told The Spokesman-Review in 2016. “Ever since I was a little boy, that’s all I wanted to do.”

From that pencil came the designs for iconic structures of Spokane’s skyline. The Parkade parking structure, the Riverfalls Tower on downtown’s west end and the Burlington Northern rail bridge over Hangman Creek all owe their design to Heylman.

Heylman, a bow tie-wearing architect who went from designing Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired homes on the South Hill to massive public projects and affordable housing during the boom years of Spokane architecture, died Aug. 10. He was 98.

His career in Spokane coincided with a group of new, young architects that arrived in the post-World War II years and reshaped the look of the city, said Aaron Bragg, a copywriter who helped curate a Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture exhibit on the city’s architecture during that time.

“There’s a handful of architects who you can say truly shaped the city’s landscape,” Bragg said. “You can’t imagine it without Warren Heylman’s stamp on it.”

Born Sept. 23, 1923, Heylman was the son of Jane and Harry Heylman. His father owned a Packard dealership he’d started after returning from World War I.

Warren Heylman went on to serve in World War II, and again in the Korean War, in the U.S. Navy after graduating from Lewis and Clark High School, where he ran track. That love of running lasted all his life and prompted him to compete in 40 consecutive Bloomsday races, said his daughter, Ann Martin.

“He ran the very first, up until he was 90 years old,” Martin said. “He was very proud of that.”

Always drawing plans, Heylman incorporated the features of the ships he was stationed on in the Navy into the design for the home he built for himself and his family in western Spokane, with windows intended to mimic portholes.

He opened his own one-man firm in 1952, placing ads in the newspaper that got him work designing homes. His early work showed the influence of Wright, the prolific American architect who pioneered open floor plans and efficient building methods, said Glenn Davis, a local architect and architectural historian who worked with Heylman briefly in the early 1990s.

“He was a very cost-conscious architect,” Davis said. “Architects like Warren, and some of his fellow architects from that period, I think they were dealing with how to come up with aesthetics that dealt with lower construction costs, and a different attitude toward labor.”

Some of those early homes still stand; others have been swept away by development and progress. One of Davis’ favorites of Heylman’s early homes was one built for the architect’s childhood friend, John G.F. Hieber, in 1953. It was bought by a developer in 2012 who later demolished the house after trying to renovate it.

Among Heylman’s first public projects were the Liberty Lake Golf Course clubhouse built in 1959, with its signature sloping roof. That design feature would also find its way into the plans for the Spokane International Airport, a collaboration with fellow architect William H. Trogdon.

“I think the plan does something important,” Heylman told the Spokane Daily Chronicle in May 1965. “It brings passengers closer to the airplanes.”

Later, architect Bob Wills – who worked for Heylman for 19 years during a period that included work for Expo ’74 – would be tasked with updating that airport, expanding ticketing and baggage areas as travelers continued to flock to the Inland Northwest.

“We simply replicated the original design,” Wills said of those expansions. “You couldn’t do any better than that.”

The airport opened in 1965. Within two years, Heylman saw perhaps his most iconic structure, the downtown Parkade parking garage, built to accommodate the legion of shoppers and downtown commuters Spokane boosters hoped to attract.

Heylman said he visited parking structures in 20 cities before designing the Parkade, with its signature sign proclaiming open stalls 10 stories above Spokane’s downtown. His partner in the project was Hieber, who was doing his own work renovating the downtown Bennett Block.

“It also will be a beacon for motorists,” Heylman said of the central tower in the Parkade, upon its opening in March 1967, “and serve as a landmark for drivers seeking parking space.”

Heylman later opened an office on the ground floor of the Parkade, where he practiced architecture along with his daughter, Martin, for 35 years. The family also ran together downtown, in Bloomsdays and during work days.

Dennis Hession, the former mayor of Spokane, met Heylman through Martin.

“He was very much a visible figure,” Hession said. “You would run into him, downtown. He was always around.”

During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Heylman continued to receive recognition for his work from the American Institute of Architects, and was elected president of the Spokane chapter of the group in 1982.

Hession said Heylman was a man driven by principles, and that could be seen in his design work – especially the lukewarm reception to the offices of what was then the Spokane County Health District, today the Spokane Regional Health District.

Heylman, in 2016, defended the work as “one of the best things I’ve done.” But others disagreed.

Wills was part of the original drafting team that put together plans for the four-story, $5 million (in 1976 dollars) building. He built a scale model of the building in an effort, he said, to convince Heylman to reconsider the design. They even drove to Browne’s Addition and put the model on the hood of a car, to simulate what the finished product would look like on the north bank of the Spokane River, Wills said.

“It totally backfired,” Wills said.

Heylman stuck to his design, and in the ensuing years several regional architects, both identified and anonymous, publicly criticized the building’s design.

“People have a reaction to his work, even if they don’t know who did it,” Bragg said. “You can’t not have a reaction to a Heylman design.”

“It’s part of his strong personality, but it’s also about conviction, the confidence in yourself as a designer,” Hession said.

That confidence led Heylman to offer his advice, even when unsolicited. In the early 1970s, he wrote to Burlington Northern Railroad to criticize its plans for a rail bridge over Hangman Creek to replace their downtown line displaced by the world’s fair. Heylman’s simpler design was eventually built.

Heylman was also responsible for more than 1,000 units of affordable housing for the elderly throughout the region. His work includes the O’Malley Apartments near Gonzaga University.

He spent the final years of his life at Riverfalls, the modern apartment tower he designed overlooking Peaceful Valley that opened in 1973. He lived there with his wife, Kathryn, whom he called “Zeek.” Kathryn Heylman died in March.

“My dad’s world was centered on my mom,” Martin said, adding that Kathryn Heylman sewed all his bow ties.

In November, Riverfalls became the first of Heylman’s properties in Spokane to be listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places. Buildings are not generally considered for inclusion on the list until they’re at least 50 years old, said Megan Duvall, historic preservation officer for the city and county.

“I anticipate that we will see other Heylman buildings considered for the Register in the future,” Duvall wrote in an email.

Martin’s favorite building of her father’s also has the distinction of being on the national register of historic places. It’s another of his early works, the Colfax branch of the Whitman County Library, finished in 1960.

“It stands today as originally designed in the late ’50s and early ’60s,” Martin said. “Prime example of Warren Heylman.”

The family is planning a private graveside service. A celebration of life this fall has not been planned.

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