The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume IV, Number 1, Pages 20-28
Winter, 1979

The Jamieson and Kuhn Buildings in Spokane

Larry Mann

Larry Mann is a graduate student at Eastern Washington University and a freelance writer and photographer.

That August 5, 1889 dawned still and quiet in Spokane Falls. Smoke hung densely over the shattered ruins of a city, and an orange-red sun shown angrily through. The frontier town that had only begun to change into a city on the strength of its mining investments, surrounding agriculture, light industry, and railroad connections had just seen a six-million-dollar business district go up in smoke in the course of a summer evening.

Like the people in her sister cities Seattle and Ellensburg, who also suffered disastrous fires that summer, the people of Spokane Falls were making plans to rebuild, in many cases before the embers of the fire were even cold. The new buildings were often larger and more expensive than their predecessors, and continuing on into 1890-91 a building boom resulted that was greater than anything before or since in the city's history.

Architects found plenty of work, the best known among them today being Kirtland Cutter, as well as lesser-known men such as William J. Carpenter who designed the Hyde Block and Chauncey B. Seaton and Lorenzo M. Boardman, responsible for the Review Building and Trader's Bank Block respectively.

Probably the most prominent Spokane architect of the time was Herman Preusse, who had been born in Germany in 1847 and studied architecture there before coming to America in 1870. He had been in Spokane Falls since 1882, and had designed many of the large pre-fire structures such as the Frankfurt, Boston, and Post Office blocks. Later he was responsible for the Blalock and Ziegler buildings, as well as the mammoth Auditorium Theatre that at one time boasted the largest stage in the country. His other structures included the Granite Block, the Victoria Hotel, as well as the first permanent building at Gonzaga University.

Among Preusse's clients were Edward Herbert Jamieson, Herman A. Van Valkenburg, and Samuel J. Holland. Jamieson was the son of a Scotch-Presbyterian missionary and was born in Ambala, British India in 1852, settling in Spokane Falls in 1882. Working for a time as an attorney, he later founded and served as president of Spokane Abstract Co. In 1884 he had constructed a two-story brick building on the southwest corner of Riverside and Wall. It was destroyed in the Fire of 1889.

Ornamental script - sixth floor Riverside

Photo by Larry Mann

Van Valkenburg appears to have come to Spokane Falls shortly after the Fire, serving as an officer for the Northwestern and Pacific Mortgage Co. (a forerunner of the Northwestern and Pacific Hypotheekbank) as well as owning the Washington and Pacific Investment Co. The Hypotheekbank was a Dutch-owned company that invested heavily in loans to the rebuilders of Spokane Falls. The default of many of them after the Panic of 1893 resulted in the Hypotheekbank owning a large portion of the structures.

Holland was a saloon keeper who appears in the city directories as early as 1884, and over the years was in partnership with a number of people at various locations, even for a time being a partner in a variety show called the Theatre Comique.

These three men hired Preusse to design buildings on the south side of Riverside running west from Wall. Jamieson's six-story 80x90 foot structure was constructed on the same site as his earlier building which had burned in the Fire. At what was then the sizable cost of $120,000, it was elaborately constructed of ornamental red brick on the upper five stories and of granite on the first. Among its embellishments were the name "Jamieson Building" in ornamental script above the sixth floor on Riverside, and the street names "Mill" (the original name for Wall) and "Riverside" just above the first floor. Topping the structure at the corner was a terra-cotta ornamental column. Inside, the rooms were fitted with tongue-and-grove oak hardwood floors, marble tile in the corridors, and mahogany trim around the doors.

Adjacent to it, Van Valkenburg and Holland erected two side-by-side buildings with a common entrance making them appear to be one structure. The east side was owned by Van Valkenburg while the west side belonged to Holland. The buildings were constructed of an orange-red brick with cut-granite facings on the first two storys. Together they came to be known as the Kuhn Building. The total cost came to $115,000, Van Valkenburg's portion amounting to $65,000, while the remaining $50,000 covered Holland's share.

Both the Jamieson and the Kuhn buildings enjoyed their heyday in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and were considered among the prime business blocks in the city. Jamieson ran his Spokane Abstract Co. there during that time, and like many building owners in early Spokane, used the upper floors of the structure as a boarding house. A full page advertisement in the 1896 city directory offered prospective tennants the modern advantages of electric lights, steam heat, elevator service, and a sixth-floor dining room.

Van Valkenburg remained in Spokane for only a short time. His Washington and Pacific Investment Co. had borrowed heavily for its operating capital from the Hypotheekbank, and after having financial difficulties, Van VaIkenburg returned to Holland in disgrace. The 1893 city directory listed him as living in Amsterdam, and by 1896 he had been dropped from the directory entirely.

In the fall of 1902 Aaron Kuhn, a pioneer merchant and grain dealer in eastern Washington and Idaho since the late 1870's, moved to Spokane and bought control of the Van Valkenburg-Holland buildings, changing their name to the Kuhn Building, which it has retained since. Kuhn had been born in Germany, and beginning in 1878 ran a general merchandise store for five years in the mining town of Pierce City, Idaho. After that he moved to Colfax where for many years he ran a store and grain business, and was a founder of the Colfax National Bank.

In moving to Spokane Kuhn became part of a group that gained control of the Trader's National Bank in 1903, and he served for four years as its president. That bank and the Spokane and Eastern Trust Company, a fore-runner of the present Spokane and Eastern branch of Seattle-First National Bank merged in 1914, and Kuhn served as its president for one year, leaving Spokane in 1917.

Jamieson died in 1909, and until 1937 the building was run by the Jamieson Investment Co. which sold it that year to Zukor's, a women's clothing store which changed the structure's name to its present one of the Zukor Building. Zukor's occupied the first floor of the building from 1935 to 1973. Probably the best-known business to have occupied the building was Dr. David C. Cowen's Peerless Dentists which in 1940 boasted a staff of 73 people, and was called the "world's largest individual dental offices." Cowen was a local philanthropist, and during the depression years often accepted apples, grains, chickens, turkeys, and even goats in exchange for dental work. These were stored in the building's basement and later distributed to relief agencies in Spokane County.

Mill was original name of Wall Street

Photo by Larry Mann

For years both buildings have suffered neglect. The upper four floors of the Kuhn Building have been vacant since 1965 and the Zukor Building has been sealed off and vacant above the first floor since 1976. In recent years the real estate firm of James S. Black and Co. was interested in tearing down the entire block for a shopping mall. Though that no longer seems likely to occur, at this writing the future of these buildings is unclear.

But fortunately there is considerable interest in the structures. The brick and granite facing of the Kuhn Building was steam cleaned in the fall of 1978, after it had turned black from the soot of many years neglect. Recently Urban Hirsch of Los Angeles, one of a number of absent owners of the building and a great-grandson of Aaron Kuhn, suggested the possibility of converting the structure into a complex of small shops and office space. What future awaits these buildings? Only time will tell.

Riverside Street looking west

Courtesy of Eastern Washington Historical Society

Jamieson and Kuhn Buildings: circa 1890.
This illustration apeared in "Spokane Falls and It's Exposition,"
an 1890 booklet promoting the first of Spokane's two world fairs.

Courtesy of the Eastern Washington State Historical Society

Jamieson Building: circa 1900. The tangle of telephone lines was common
in American cities at the turn of the century.

Courtesy of the Eastern Washington State Historical Society