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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mary’s Place leveled for parking

The roof comes crashing down as Mary’s Place, sitting in the shadow of Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, is demolished Wednesday morning in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

For almost 120 years Mary’s Place has stood at its South Hill location, eventually in the shadows of the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center campus.

But Wednesday morning, the house was flattened in about an hour.

Preservationists admired the home because of its distinctive stained glass windows, century old wallpaper, intricate fixtures – and its story.

Namesake of the property, Mary Gianetsas, who staunchly refused offers from the hospital to buy her 1906 home, changed the Spokane skyline by forcing hospital developers to build around her.

After Gianetsas died in 1991, the home went to her daughter, Dorothy Alex, who lived there until she died in 2022.

But last month, the next heir, Gianetsas’ son, George Alex, made a $4.5 million deal to sell home to Diamond Inc., a parking lot management company, which swiftly flattened it.

Dan Geiger, regional vice president at Diamond’s Spokane office, said he had no choice but to level the home at 104 W. Eighth Ave.

“George and I weighed all the options and worked on this for 15 months. George was not married to the house and was perfectly fine with it being removed – it was time to make a change,” Geiger said. “We would have been happy to give it to someone for $1 had they been able to move it. It would have been better for us, but it just couldn’t be done.”

Before tearing it down, Geiger said the key parts of the home were removed to be repurposed. But interested buyers of the home, Austin and Laura Strom think it could’ve been saved entirely.

When he learned of the fate of Mary’s Place, Austin Storm was reminded of a quote from an ancient Chinese proverb.

“The people who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of the people who are doing it – I think that’s the mindset,” Storm said.

The Storms are no stranger to ambitious preservation projects. They purchased the derelict, 130-year-old St. Ignatius Hospital in Colfax in 2021 and performed restoration work seen as impossible to some, Austin Storm said.

Picking up the 5,000-square-foot home and placing it on another property would require the removal of tree branches and utility wires and for it to be cut into around six pieces to fit down the narrow, South Hill roads, Storm said.

“There’s always a cacophony of voices when you try something this big saying it can or cannot be done,” he said. “Really the only reason that Mary’s Place wasn’t moved is because of a lack of imagination and a willingness to let it happen.”

After debris is cleared and the undamaged framework is salvaged, Greiger said Diamond plans to renovate the small guest house on the property. Referred to as the carriage house, the quaint structure will be turned into a three-unit rental.

Where Mary’s Place now sits in a pile of rubble, pavement will be laid for a 65-stall parking lot.

Before demolition crews went to work, Geiger said he hired RenCorp, a real estate company with expertise in renovation and salvage.

“They saved every door, trim work, cabinets, the stain glass windows, other woodwork, there was a banister on second level, hardwood flooring, most every window, the beautiful light fixtures – they’ll all be taken care of,” he said. “All that was left was the shell.”

Geiger said what was salvaged will be incorporated in properties owned by Diamond including two Browne’s Addition multifamily buildings, the Marlboro and the Avenida Apartments, and the Paulsen Building in downtown Spokane.

He said whatever is left will be donated to the Spokane Preservation Advocates.

But Dave Shockley, executive coordinator for advocacy group, is less than thrilled by the proposition.

“It is too bad that the owner wouldn’t consider alternative ways to clear the site. We thought we had more time to work on options,” Shockley said. “Evidently they didn’t want to wait.”

Despite the salvage efforts, Shockley is still saddened by the outcome.

“Though some architectural features were salvaged, there are structural materials that can no longer be found that could also have been reused,” he said, noting that the home’s framework and floor joists should have also been reclaimed.

“After Mary and her daughter’s long stewardship of the property this is truly a sad ending,” Shockley said.

Geiger said the carriage house and parking lot is estimated to be in operation by September.

He anticipates the lot not to exist long.

“We all know the parking lot is not the highest and best use but until something else comes along, we’re going to just use it as a parking lot,” he said. “But someday there will likely be a medical office building built on the site or something of that nature.”

Spokane city Councilman Paul Dillon said that it’s devastating to lose Mary’s Place.

“It hurts a lot more knowing it’s going to be a parking lot,” Dillon said.

He said Spokane developers have had a track-record of replacing historic buildings with paved lots.

“It reminds me of the Rookery Block around 2005,” he said “This is a pattern we desperately need to end.”

The Rookery Block once contained the Rookery, Mohawk and Merton buildings, all of which qualified for Historic Registry status, according to Spokesman-Review reports.

In their place, a parking lot was paved and remains at the 500 block of West Riverside Avenue.

Today, Diamond Inc. manages the lot.

“We own a lot of historic buildings that we put a lot of money into and take care of,” Geiger said. “We’re painted with this villainlike brush but there’s also a lot of good that the company does in Spokane.”

But Dillon regards the replacement of Mary’s Place with a parking lot as a degressive act against the future of Spokane.

“Salvaging what they could doesn’t lessen the blow, and it doesn’t change the fact that it was a historical marker,” Dillon said. “We have a vast amount of surface parking in the city and it underscores how much we need to plan for Spokane’s future by investing into more compact, walkable communities that are centered around transit lines.”

Dillion said he and others at the city are working on new ways to disincentivize the development of new parking lots.

“I’ve been working on better defining commercial parking in our municipal code and we are working with the planning commission to end parking minimums and to incentivize converting parking to housing,” he said.

Additionally, Dillion hopes the city can strengthen the historic preservation office to ensure the city is doing “everything we can to incentivize historic preservation.”

The notion is exciting to Storm who fears other historic buildings in Spokane could end up like Mary’s.

“There will be other opportunities to test whether the city of Spokane and developers value some of these irreplaceable gems,” he said. “There will be other fights and other worthy battles.”