Auto Row

Auto Row.   Story by Karen Dorn Steele, SPA Advocacy Chair

 photo 1Two downtown brick buildings that first served as auto showrooms in the early 20th century are historically significant and shouldn’t be demolished, Spokane’s Historic Landmarks Commission has agreed.

Despite the commission’s unanimous Oct. 15 vote, political pushback is highly likely. The Utah-based property arm of the large Larry H. Miller auto dealership in Spokane hired a consultant who concluded the buildings at 1023 and 1027 West Third Avenue aren’t worth saving. The company wants to demolish the structures within 18 to 24 months.

Brad Holmes of Miller Family Real Estate erupted angrily in a City Hall corridor after the commission vote. He threatened to look for expansion sites outside of the city limits for the auto dealership if the company’s plans to demolish the buildings are thwarted.

In a Sept. 25 letter to the Landmarks Commission, Miller Family Real Estate asked for a Determination of Eligibility for the two buildings, which used to house the Sutherland Mercedes Benz dealership. They were hoping that the city’s preservation office and landmarks commission would agree the buildings are “non-significant” _ ineligible for inclusion on the National Historic Register.

photo 2In its letter, the company said it was entering into a long-term lease with Scott Thompson, who bought the buildings four years ago. Terms of the lease “include the provision for demolition of the existing building. This is an integral part of the redevelopment of the Larry H. Miller Lexus, Toyota and Honda dealerships in downtown Spokane,” the company said.

The hearing marked the first major controversy for the city’s new Historic Preservation Officer, Megan Duvall, who started her job in early October.

In her staff report, Duvall acknowledged the structures built in 1913 and 1937 are not within the “West Downtown Transportation Corridor” where other “auto row” buildings have been preserved, but they are adjacent to it downtown where “any property looking to be demolished needs to be reviewed.”

Duvall said the buildings are over 50 years old and are early examples of auto sales and service buildings with brick exteriors, simple terra cotta or stucco accents, prominent showroom storefronts and garage-type doors.

Despite changes in the storefronts over time, “their essential features, function and character remain intact” and they are eligible for National Register inclusion, Duvall concluded.

A consultant hired by the auto company disagreed. Steve Emerson, program director of Eastern Washington University’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, said the buildings aren’t in a historic district and don’t meet the criteria for the National Register because of significant modifications.

“It’s all about integrity. These buildings don’t display that,” Emerson said.

Thompson, the property owner, said contractors have told him the buildings aren’t worth renovating.

Now that the properties have been deemed historically significant, the auto company can argue its economic case before an “ad hoc” committee for a decision on a demolition permit. If denied, the company can appeal, Duvall said.

See attachments: Historic Preservation Officer Megan Duvall’s report here, historic inventory prepared by Steve Emerson for the auto dealership here, and the Sept. 25 letter to the Historic Landmarks Commission from Miller Family Real Estate here.


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