Though a parking garage might seem mundane to many residents today, the opening of the Parkade in downtown Spokane in 1967 was a major accomplishment. Local businessmen viewed as a first step in a multi-year effort to breathe new life into the city’s core and host the World’s Fair in 1974.
The historic significance of the Parkade was officially recognized by the City Council earlier this month with a vote to add the building to the historic registry.
The Parkade was praised for its modern design, the work of architect Warren Cummings Heylman, who was “among Spokane’s most notable midcentury architects,” said Spokane Historic Preservation Specialist Logan Camporeale. Heylman went on a tour to the Midwest and East to survey other constructions before creating “the best in the self-service parking field,” The Spokesman-Review reported in 1965.
Heylman, who was also responsible for designing the Riverfalls Tower Apartments, the Spokane Regional Health District building and other local structures, received an award by the Washington Aggregate and Concrete Association for “excellence in the use of concrete.”
On the day the Parkade opened, The Spokesman-Review referred to its use of external concrete half-arches as “futuristic,” writing that it was one of the few modern parking facilities with a roof and noting the “striking” tower extending above the garage that housed the elevator mechanisms.
Decades later, the parking garage’s impact on Spokane’s skyline still resonates with some, such as local artist Megan Perkins, who has painted the Parkade alongside other landmarks and notable buildings throughout the city. She had often found herself stalled behind a nearby stoplight and watched the way sunlight would frame the building and change through the seasons, she said in an interview.
“A lot of my work is about paying attention, and that anything around you can be beautiful – it doesn’t have to be an Italian villa, it can be a parking garage,” Perkins said. “It doesn’t even need to be beautiful to be interesting, and in many cases, if you pay attention to something, a thing becomes beautiful under focus of that attention.”
The historic designation approved Nov. 6 brings with it a number of perks: substantial rehabilitation can lower the owner’s tax bill for a 10-year period, modest city grants for improvements to the building’s public-facing façade and a slight case-by-case relaxation of modern building codes for historical aspects of a building, such as a “cool railing,” Camporeale said.
The garage is owned by the Seattle-based company GT Mukilteo, which purchased the Parkade in late 2020. It is operated by Parkade Investors.
Co-owner Charlie Bauman wrote in an email that the group does not foresee further changes to the façade or interior, having recently completed major renovations led by Guntower Capital, for which Bauman is also the head of development.
However, “The benefits received through the historic registry are vital to our ability to continue to maintain and operate the property in an affordable manner for generations to come,” Bauman wrote.
A garage that
defined the future
After the end of World War II, Spokane experienced the same decentralization and suburbanization that nearly every other city in the country was undergoing. Residents and businesses moved further and further outside of the city’s downtown core, and automobiles became increasingly prevalent for city residents.
Northtown, Spokane’s first shopping mall, opened in 1954, breaking downtown’s hold on the city’s shopping and banking. Downtown office buildings were vacated, with some closing everything but their first floors. Some buildings considered no longer economically viable were torn down, in some cases being replaced by parking lots. In 1958, Sears Roebuck announced it was closing its downtown department store and moving to Northtown.
Hoping to staunch the bleeding, downtown business owners formed Spokane Unlimited, raising money to commission a study on the city’s downtown and form a plan for revitalization. In 1961, Ebasco, a New York consulting firm, released a report stating downtown Spokane suffered from “obsolescence, traffic congestion, blight” and a “drab and sometimes unappealing general appearance.”
Ebasco’s recommendations for “corrective surgery” included improving access to the Spokane River, removing many of the railroads that laced downtown and adding more parking garages and improving pedestrian traffic through more attractive sidewalks and overhead walkways.
Many of the same business owners who commissioned the study quickly moved to realize those very recommendations. Plans were drawn up for a 10-story, 1,000-car parking garage spanning half of a city block and wreathed by pedestrian skywalks above the city streets.
“It was one of the largest parking garages constructed anywhere in the ’ 60s,” said Dru Hieber, whose father, John G.F. Hieber, was a founding partner in the building. “The automobile was here to stay.”
The concept attracted heavyweight local investors, some of whom were business rivals, including the Bon Marche and Crescent department stores, Old National Bank, First National Bank, Fidelity Savings & Loan Association, Hieber Properties and later Deaconess Hospital, raising the $3.5 million needed for land acquisition and construction.
Six buildings were razed to make way for the future. These housed the Hotel Grand (whose upper floors had been vacant for years), Stevens Hotel, Gay Tavern, Ryan’s Tavern, Dollar Steak House, Harold March Jewelers, Lue’s Cameras, Reid’s Barber College, El Rancho Theater, Pete’s Custom Tailors, New Deal Taverns, M&H Loans, Neslin’s Men’s Furnishings, Star Jewelers, Goodyear Shoe Repair, Chef Restaurant, Echo Tavern and Andy’s Press Shop.
Some of those businesses initially hoped to relocate into neighboring buildings or into the first floor of the Parkade, which would be reserved for a small shopping mall later dubbed Park Lane.
Some, however, were fearful that the vision for the city’s future was a grim one.
Robert Fishback, owner of Star Jewelers, was concerned that further loss of the small, distinctive businesses in the center of the city would cause fewer people to want to come downtown, not more.
“To them, Spokane is a city that provides the variety and diversity of establishments that they do not have in their communities,” Fishback told The Spokesman-Review in 1965. “The absence of the small shops that make for such diversity in the center off the business district would be greatly missed by our Inland Empire patrons.”
But the area had already been remade in recent years. The Chinese and Japanese businesses and hotels that had characterized the immediate area, particularly in the nearby “Trent alley,” had been displaced in the aftermath of World War II as the population dispersed from downtown.
The Parkade was completed in 1967, with an opening ceremony and gala in March to celebrate. The first floor initially housed Callahan’s Northwest Radio and TV, R. Alan Brown Interior Design Studio, Hickory Farms – offering 126 kinds of cheese, smoked sausage and other food gift items – and Early Dawn Ice Creamery. The building attracted tenants that had been eyeing expanding into the outlying shopping malls, which had gradually been pulling away suburban and exurban customers from downtown, John Hieber said on opening day.
A nearby plaza between what is today Rite-Aid and the former Wild Dawgs, named Park Plaza, was a gathering place for shoppers and pedestrians. The courtyard originally included early-American gas street lamps, a bandstand, a large fountain and open air businesses including a flower shop, greeting card shop and café.
“A first step for Spokane and other cities in revitalizing their central business district is to provide parking,” John Hieber said on opening day.
The Parkade accomplished a second goal laid out by Ebasco, leaving an indelible mark on downtown still evident to this day: the advent of Spokane’s public skywalk system. The parking garage was not the city’s first building with a pedestrian bridge – Camporeale believes that was the Ridpath several years before. However, while the Ridpath’s skywalk connected the main hotel with an expansion, the Parkade was the first in a series of public skyways lacing together downtown buildings.
The Parkade’s skywalk sparked a trend: by 1984, downtown Spokane had 14 such pedestrian bridges connecting 12 city blocks, more than anywhere else in the country at the time except for the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.
Spokane Unlimited continued to pursue Ebasco’s other recommendations, playing a key role in organizing efforts to bring the world’s fair to the city for Expo ’74. That led to the creation of Riverfront Park, a clearing of many of the downtown railways and an opening up of the Spokane River to tourists and residents.
In many ways, a project to define the future of Spokane with a legacy apparent nearly 60 years later began with, of all things, a parking garage.
The Parkade’s new owners hope that the building still has a role to play in the city’s urban renewal in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which city leaders have said has once again contributed to downtown buildings being emptied of customers, office workers and businesses.
“With this in mind, we’ve started to work with several local establishments to offer patrons discounted parking for extended time periods,” Bauman wrote. “Our hope is to draw people downtown with enough time to experience a performance, concert, dinner, shopping, or ideally a combination of several of the fun things that downtown has to offer.”