The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume 9, Number 2, Pages 3-17
Spring, 1984

Protecting Our Heritage: Historic Preservation In Spokane

by Janice Williams Rutherford

City/County Historic Preservation Officer, Spokane, Washington

Credits: Eastern Washington University Historical Society and Janice Williams Rutherford

The Rebuilding after the Fire of 1889 resulted in a substantial city of brick and granite.
An early view of Riverside Avenue showing the Empire State Building and the Review Building.

What Is Historic Preservation?

The term historic preservation has received a good deal of notoriety over the past two decades. At one extreme, it has been touted as a social panacea; at the other, it has been called economic obstructionism. This article will attempt to shed light on the relationship between preserving old buildings and the serious study of history. As a case in point, it will examine the evolution of a preservation movement in Spokane, Washington. While in its broadest sense, historic preservation encompasses historic archaeology, we shall deal here with only the protection of the above ground built environment.

Historic Preservation is simply the business of preserving the physical evidence of the past so that we may learn from it, utilize it as a part of our social and cultural environment, enjoy its aesthetic qualities, and keep for those who follow, a reminder of their society's history. Essentially, this process involves classifying, evaluating, and finding ways to preserve, the built environment.

History in its broadest sense deals with all aspects of human existence; the preservation of historic artifacts is one way of helping us understand the social, economic, and aesthetic development of a culture. Structures, like the artifacts in museums, can be research tools. The way a building was put together tells us something of the progress of technology at the time of its construction. Its room arrangement lends clues to lifestyles and social customs. Its materials reflect the state of natural resource abundance and exploitation and depletion over a period of time.

Historic Preservation is not a discipline in the sense that the study of history is a discipline. Rather it is a practice which results from the coalition of many disciplines including the fields of architecture, law, archaeology, real estate, government, history, public works, economics, design, merchandising, and even downtown redevelopment.

There are differing views about how this practice should be conducted. Do we save everything? Do we preserve only that which is aesthetically pleasing? Do we subscribe to the "great man" theory of history by saving only the Mount Vernons and the Monticellos?(1) Or do we accord importance to the working man's place in history by conserving what is left of neighborhoods like Spokane, Washington's Peaceful Valley?(2) More and more, preservationists are taking an assertive role in the new, holistic approach to cultural resource conservation. They are recognizing that important historic resources are found at all levels of past society.

Yet responsible preservationists realize that not everything can or should be saved. History is a continuum. The built environment can reflect this dynamic as it has done in Spokane where the new 1983 Cowles Publishing Company building blends with and complements the 1890 Review Building. (See photograph.) Preservation does not prescribe stagnation.

The Preservation Movement in the United States

Preservation, as currently practiced in America, is a partnership between the private and public sectors. This teamwork approach has evolved over a century and a half as concerned private citizens have forced government to take stands on preservation policy in order to save irreplaceable historic resources from destruction.

Prior to the 20th century, government involvement in preservation was limited. The movement is generally recognized as having begun with the successful effort of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association to save George Washington's Virginia home, Mount Vernon, in 1859.(3) This project, like the much later 1920s restoration and reconstruction of Williamsburg, Virginia by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was a wholly private effort.(4)

The judiciary was awakened to preservation as a public issue in 1896 when the Gettysburg Electric Company wished to lay tracks across the great Civil War battlefield. In a landmark case, the United States Supreme Court intervened to preserve the historic site through public acquisition.(5)

Since 1900, a body of federal preservation law has evolved.(6) The great watershed of this growing legislative movement was the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (amended, 1980).(7) This Act set up a federal state structure for the administration of historic preservation concerns and established beyond question a national policy favorable to the protection of our historic and cultural resources.

The same view today shows how the new Cowles Publishing Company
Building blends with and complements the historic structures.

The National Historic Preservation Act included four major provisions: 1) it expanded the National Register of Historic Places, the nation's list of properties worthy of preservation; 2) it set up the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; 3) it established a fifty percent matching grant program available to states which agreed to participate in the program and to survey their own resources; and 4) through Section 106, it mandated review and comment by the Advisory Council on federal projects which would impact historic resources.(8) In 1976, Congress established the Historic Preservation Fund for the administration of this program. The annual amount of the appropriation hit a high of $60 million in 1979 but has decreased yearly since. The Reagan Administration has unsuccessfully proposed zero funding for the past two years.(9)

States have developed their own preservation legislation since the program was first established in 1966. Washington, for example, in order to participate in the federal program, passed its own preservation act in 1977 and established an Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation which staffs a State Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and reviews nominations from our state to the National Register of Historic Places. This law also established a Washington State Register of Historic Places.(10)

Notwithstanding the broad sweep of legislative mandates for carrying out a firmly established national policy of protecting our historic resources, private involvement in preservation has remained strong. The primary national standard-bearer for private concerns in the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Although the Trust was chartered by Congress in 1949, it depends on memberships and donations as well as federal matching grants for its operation.(11) Many statewide nonprofit organizations have been modeled after the National Trust; the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation was founded in 1976 and seeks to assist private historic preservation activities throughout the state.(12)

Preservation in Spokane

Amendments to the National Preservation Act adopted in 1980 provided for local government participation in the federal/state program established in 1966. Prior to the passage of these amendments, local programs were usually given impetus by private activity in preservation. Most local programs, indeed, were wholly private.

Spokane was among the few Washington communities to develop a publicly supported preservation program due to the efforts of private citizens and groups. A number of local citizens attended a National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Seattle in 1975. This group agreed that a program should be established in Spokane. Countywide preservation goals were prepared and the State Conservator (a position which predated Washington's 1976 Preservation Act). visited the city to encourage their implementation.(13)

The James N. Glover House, built by Kirtland K. Cutter in 1888, shown here around 1904.

The Spokane Junior League spearheaded preservation-oriented activities during the following three years. In 1977 the League proposed that a joint ad hoc committee on a Landmarks Commission be appointed.(14) The next year, an interlocal agreement was prepared between the City of Spokane and Spokane County to apply for a grant to hire a preservation planner.(15) The ad hoc committee was organized and began its study of the proposal to form a Landmarks Commission and to develop an ordinance to set local preservation policy in 1978.(16) Soon after, Spokane County's first preservation planner was hired and plans to insert a historic preservation element in the city's comprehensive land use plan were formulated.(17) Spokane had launched a far-reaching and forward-thinking preservation program.

Earlier reference to preservation as a practice suggested three components to a good program: 1) identifying the resources, 2) evaluating them, and 3) implementing measures to preserve them. The program which has developed in Spokane addresses all three. The city's historic resource survey (adopted by the Plan Commission in 1978) has identified over 1500 potentially significant historic properties within the city limits.(18) While federal 50 percent matching grants were still available through the state,(19) a similar county survey was nearly completed.(20) Both surveys have been compiled into inventories which attempt to evaluate the significance of each of the properties cited.

Blueprints for implementation of protective measures are provided by two documents: the historic element to the city's comprehensive land use plan, officially adopted in 1981,(21) and the preservation ordinance, adopted nearly simultaneously and in identical language by both city and county in late 1981 and early 1982.(22)

The comprehensive plan preservation element sets forth eight policies and 40 objectives to be implemented by the various governmental entities within whose purview each falls.(23) The ordinance specifically defines and mandates a local governmental structure to carry out the local commitment to preservation.

Developed over a two-year period by a City/County Historic Landmarks Commission created in 1980 by joint resolution between city and county,(24) the ordinance provides for a Spokane Register of Historic Places, a City/County Historic Preservation Office to provide staff support, and a set of standards by which to manage properties designated to the Spokane Register. Typical of many local ordinances, Spokane's allows the Landmarks Commission to review design proposals which affect designated properties and to delay their demolitions. This publicly supported program has given credibility to preservation in Spokane, a city richly endowed with a fine collection of historic architecture.

Spokane's Historic Built Environment

Forty-two properties within Spokane County have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the past 13 years. Fifty-six have qualified for State Register status.(25) Of these, five are historic districts, each of which includes many individual buildings. Many more Spokane properties are eligible for designation.

When a great fire swept through Spokane Falls in 1889, it left virtually nothing but rubble and ashes.(26) The young town's citizenry rebuilt within a year and the result was a substantial city of brick and granite. A great deal of that legacy and what followed as wealth grew, remains to us today.

Thanks to exuberant young architects who had come west to participate in expansion - architects such as Kirtland Kelsey Cutter - and to the discovery of rich ore deposits nearby, Spokane's growth period saw the rise of elegant and grand structures like the mansions of James Glover, Austin Corbin, and F. Lewis Clark, all Cutter homes built on Spokane's South Hill between 1888 and 1898.(27) In the commercial area along Riverside Avenue, the rebirth gave rise to lovely revival style buildings such as the Review Building (C.B. Seaton, 1890) and the Empire State Building (John K. Dow, 1900), now both listed on the National Register.(28) Extravagant residences were erected in the '80s and '90s in Browne's Addition, an area on the bluff just west of Spokane's downtown platted by the young Michigan lawyer, J.J. Browne in the 1880s.(29) Today, though marred by latter-day intrusions, Browne's Addition is a National Register Historic District and still exhibits much of its former grandeur in homes like those of mining magnates John Aylard Finch, Patrick Clark, and William Wakefield.(30)

The creation of imposing architectural monuments in Spokane did not end with the dawning of the 20th century. In 1907, the famous landscape architecture team, the Olmsteds of Brookline, Massachusetts, recommended to the Spokane Board of Park Commissioners that they create a civic center adorned with median strips planted in linden trees along the gentle curve of Riverside Avenue west of Monroe Street.(31) The result was a magnificent sweep of some of the finest revival architecture in the state of Washington. The area exhibits the baroque revival in the glazed terra cotta facade of the former Smith Funeral Home, the restrained symmetry of the second renaissance revival in the North Coast Life Company Building, stately neoclassical influence in the colonnade of the Masonic Temple, and the formal lines of the Georgian idiom in the Spokane City Club.

The Glover House today.

But Spokane is also a city of neighborhoods. The wealthy have not been the only builders. The city's architectural patrimony includes entire streets of period homes which are historically cohesive. Some of these neighborhoods are modest, yet they are as much a tangible symbol of our history as the luxurious establishments of the rich. Maintaining the appearance of and lengthening the useful lives of all these resources have become the concerns of the preservation community in Spokane.

Preservation Practice in Spokane

Recent federal legislation has assisted this effort to utilize our historic resources and thus conserve them for future generations. The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981(32) provided an attractive tax credit program to encourage the sensitive rehabilitation of income-producing historic properties. Several Spokane resources have benefited from the utilization of this law. The Patrick Clark Mansion was converted to a fine restaurant in 1982 and the North Coast Life Insurance Company Building, the former Elks' Temple, has been rehabilitated for use as office space. Several more historic property owners are making plans to rehabilitate their buildings under the Tax Act.

A greater challenge is the preservation of the neighborhoods. There is currently no legislation which provides economic incentives for restoring or rehabilitating owner-occupied private residences. How do we convince the owner of a 1915 bungalow to replace rotting porch posts with posts which replicate the originals when iron pipes may be less expensive? What motivates the owner of a simple pioneer style home to maintain the long narrow windows which give the house its special character when an aluminum window salesperson claims that a smaller, horizontally oriented product will save energy? Spokane preservationists have recently formed a new preservation organization, the Spokane Historic Preservation Foundation. It is hoped that funds collected by this organization can be utilized to assist these home owners, perhaps in the form of low-interest loans to owners of locally designated properties.

Money is only part of the incentive to repair sensitively, however, and in Spokane, the City/County Historic Preservation Office is attempting to educate building owners about the importance of maintaining the historic character of their properties through workshops, slide presentations, and informational services. The office also works with other governmental agencies whose activities impact historic resources.

Another concern is the appropriate designing of new structures within historic areas, Insensitive infill buildings, designed without regard for the architectural and spatial elements or size and scale of surrounding buildings are intrusive and can damage the historic integrity of an area or neighborhood. Some, like the new Cowles Publishing Company Building which replaced the old Crescent Block on Riverside Avenue, achieve compatibility through attention to materials, spatial relationships, and scale. The preservation program in Spokane, through information dissemination and through its work with the city and county zoning and planning departments as they develop future growth guidelines, seeks to assure such sensitivity in all historic areas as new must inevitably replace some of the old.

The F. Lewis Clark House and the Austin Corbin House as they appear today.

Historic Preservation truly came of age with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the strong federal commitment to the conservation of our historic resources. Spokane, Washington has developed a program which echoes and affirms that commitment at the local level. We have all begun to recognize the importance of preserving that portion of our heritage which lies in our historic built environment.

The Finch Mansion exhibits the same granduer today.

An early view of the John Aylard Finch Mansion (Cutter, 1898) in Browne's Addition.

The Patrick Clark House, now known as "Patsy Clark's," a fine example of sensitive adaptive re-use.



1. The restored Virginia homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, respectively. For more information, see Milton W. Brown, et. al., American Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Decorative Arts, Photography (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.; and The National Trust for Historic Preservation, America's Forgotten Architecture (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976).

2. Peaceful Valley is a turn~of-the-century working class neighborhood below the bluff on which Browne's Addition sits in Spokane. It has recently been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.

3. Jacob H. Morrison, Historic Preservation Law (Washington D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1965), 3.

4. Hugh Morrison, Early American Architecture (New York; Oxford University Press, 1952) 320-335.

5. United States v Gettysburg Electric Co., 160 U.S. 668 (1896).

6 Other Pertinent federal laws dealing with preservation include: Antiquities Act of 1906, P.L. 209. 34 Stat. 225 16 U.S.C. 431-433; National Park Service Act, 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1 Et. Seq.; Historic Sites Act of 1935, 16 U.S.C. Sec. 461-467; Resevoir Act of 1960, P.L. 86-523, 16 U.S.C. Sec. 469-469c; Sec. 4 (f), Transportation Act, 49 U.S.C. 1953 (f); National Environmental Policy Act, P.L. 91-190, 83 Stat. 852, 42 U.S.C. 4321; Tax Reform Act of 1976, P.L. 94-455, 90 Stat. 1916; Economic Recovery Act of 1981, P.L. 97-34.

7. National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, 16 U.S.C. Sec. 470, Amended in 1976, P.L. 94-422, 90 Stat. 1320.

8. Lars A. Hanslin. "Federal Framework for Historic Landmark Protection," Historic Preservation Law by Nicholas A. Robinson, Real Estate Law and Practise Course Handbook Series, no. 68 (New York: Practising Law Institute, 1979) 34-37.

9. National Trust for Historic preservation, "A History of Federal Funding for Historic Preservation," (fact sheet printed in Washington D.C., n.d.)

10. R.C.W. 43.51A.

11. National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1983 Annual Report (Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 1984).

12. Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Bylaws. n.p., n.d., 1..

13. William Trogdon to John Hieber, et a1., Spokane, August 8, 1975; Jim Stravens to Jose Urcia, September 23. 1975; William Trogdon to Art Skolnik. October, 1975: Historic Preservation Office Files, Spokane, Washington.

14. The Junior League of Spokane to Jerome C. Kopet, November 11. 1977. Historic Preservation Office Files. Spokane, Washington.

15. Claire Bishop to Spokane Regional Planning Conference, July 25, 1978, Historic Preservation Office Files, Spokane, Washington.

16. Claire Bishop to Ad Hoc Committee. February 14, 1978; Minutes of the Ad Hoc Committee, February 10, 1978 to January 24, 1979, Historic Preservation Office Files, Spokane, Washington.

17. A.S. Brown and Richard Barrett to Honorable Mayor Bair, February 24, 1978; Claire Bishop to Ken Brooks, July 3, 1979; Fred Dayharsh to Board of County Commissioners February 17, 1978, Historic Preservation Office Files, Spokane, Washington.

18. City Plan Commission, Historic Landmarks Survey: A Report and Site Inventory of Spokane's Historic Resources (Spokane, Washington: City Plan Commission, 1979.)

19. From 1978 until 1980. the Washington State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation disbursed a portion of its federal match to localities in order to aid them with their local historic resource surveys. Though there are stiIl modest preservation grants to local cities and counties from the State Office, the size has diminished considerably since 1980 (Historic Preservation Office Files. Spokane, Washington).

The Riverside Avenue Historic District exhibits some of the finest revival architecture in the state of Washington.

A contemporary view of the William Wakefield House (Cutter, 1898) iIi. Browne's Addition.


20. Historic Preservation Files, 1978-1982. Spokane County Planning Department, Spokane, Washington.

21. City Plan Commission and City Council, Historic Preservation Plan: An Element of the Comprehensive Plan (Spokane, Washington: City of Spokane, 1981).

22. Ordinance C-26353, adopted by Spokane City Council, November 23. 1981; Ordinance 82-0038, adopted by Spokane County Board of Commissioners, January 12. 1982.

23. City Plan Commission and City Council, Historic Preservation Plan, 19-46.

24. Joint Resolution of the City of Spokane and the County of Spokane, adopted by Spokane City Council February 25, 1980 and Board of County Commissioners, March 3, 1980.

25. List of State and National Register Properties, December 21. 1982 (Olympia. Washington: State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation).

26. John Fahey, "Building Blocks," Spokane Magazine, July 1981, 40, 79-81.

27. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Forms, "Glover House," 1970; "Marycliff/Cliff Park," 1978, Spokane, Washington.

28. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Forms, 'The Review Building," 1970; "Empire State Building," 1976, Spokane, Washington.

29. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Forms, "Browne's Addition," 1976, Olympia, Washington.

30. Ibid.; National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, "Clark Mansion," 1975; "Finch Mansion," 1975, Olympia and Spokane, Washington.

31. National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form, "Spokane Civic Center," 1976, Olympia, Washington.

32. P.L. 97-34, signed by President Reagan, August 13, 1981.

Insensitive infill buildings, designed without regard for the architectural elements of surrounding buildings are intrusive.

The North Coast Life Building in Riverside Avenue Historic District has been rehabilitated for use as office space.

Spokane is a city of neighborhoods. This is an early photograph of a bungalow neighborhood soon after it was built.

A recent view of a similar neighborhood demonstrates the abiding historic cohesiveness of these areas.