Hidden Spokane: Lesser-known wonders of the Lilac City
A photojournalist's guide to the strange, lesser-known wonders of the Lilac City. By Nathan Band.
Author: Frances Wang, Jenica Villamor and Raishad Hardnett
Published: 4:41 PM PDT April 24, 2015
Updated: 6:17 AM PDT May 8, 2018
HIDDEN-SPOKANE 0 Articles

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Downtown Spokane contains more than one dozen vintage brick advertisements, some of which are over 100 years old. A few of the more interesting ones are profiled here...

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Hand painted advertisements of yesteryear still grace the sides of several Downtown Spokane buildings. Now, local college students have put together a tour to showcase this piece of Hidden Spokane.

Many of the hand painted ads, also known as ghost signs, date back to the early 1900s. But it is the lead paint used in the signs that has preserved their decades-old sales pitch.

Fast forward to 2015, more than 120 ghost signs can be spotted in the Spokane area.

Students from Eastern Washington University have worked to catalog all of the existing ghost signs in the area.

"Spokane is one of the biggest cities to really document the ghost signs," said EWU student Anna Harbine. You can see a couple of other ones in Oklahoma, Texas, but it's kind of a new area of history that people are exploring."

The ghost signs project at EWU began in a history class taught by Larry Cebula. Professor Cebula's students cataloged more than 120 ghost signs, but believe there could be 200 hand painted ads on local buildings.

Most of the signs were created between 1900 and 1940s according to Harbine. Some of the biggest ghost sings in the Spokane area came from national ad campaigns like Coca-Cola.

The research even inspired some of the students to take their project beyond the classroom. Now they have started a ghost sign tour for the public.

"It just gives us a glimpse into what Spokane was at one point," said tour creator Frank Oesterheld. "I think that's what's so interesting about them."

"The advertisements were really targeting towards men in this region," added Harbine. "When you get further towards the west, they get more family oriented, more local businesses rather than just plain advertisements."

The lead paint in the signs has helped preserve the advertisements. However, their preservation is also up to the business owners because many of the signs are or located on privately owned buildings.

The ghost sign tour begins June 6. A pre-tour class is offered at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Browne's Addition when you sign up. The tour group then visits 30 ghost signs in Spokane.

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The Historic Davenport Hotel escaped demolition in 2000, but long before its multi-million renovation the historic hotel became home to two Hidden Spokane features.

Louis Davenport opened the Davenport Hotel in Downtown Spokane in 1914. At its height, the Davenport was described as "a beacon of culture and refinement," which welcomed guests like Amelia Earhart, Clark Gable, Babe Ruth and John F. Kennedy.

READ: Complete celebrity guest list

But by 1985 the hotel was forced to close its doors until a massive overhaul brought the Davenport back to life in 2002.

Much of the original grandeur of the Davenport Hotel still exists along with at least one hidden messages engraved into the woodwork. The second floor of the Davenport Hotel contains a message hidden in plain site. Start the slideshow below to find out what it says and how to find it.

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Back in the late 1890s, Louis Davenport kept all his fortunes in his safe at the Davenport. That safe is now kept in a parking garage under Post Street in the same spot where Davenport's office used to be.

Staff did not have a need to move the safe, so they kept it in the original location. They use the safe as part of a tour from time to time. The staff at the Davenport do not know where the doors of the safe or the money inside went.

The Davenport staff said the safe is a unique piece of history that is worth preserving and sharing with others.

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Another little mystery hidden inside the Davenport includes a proposal worked into the detail on a wall that reads, "Will You Marry Me."

The Davenport spokesman Matt Jensen said the message was discovered when they renovated the hotel in 2002. One of the painters was on a ladder and noticed the words written into the wood grain. Staff at the Davenport do not know who the person was behind the message or why they put it there, but it has been the backdrop for hundreds of proposals.

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On the seventh floor guests can find what Davenport spokesman Matt Jensen described as the "only original guest room."

Below the sidewalks and historic buildings of Spokane sits a deserted series of tunnels. The five-foot tall tunnel under the Davenport is just one of many secret passages beneath the Lilac City. The tunnel, which is closed the public, eventually expands as you walk along the path. And as it becomes taller, the tunnel under the Davenport also fills with water from underground springs according to Jensen.

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During the Davenport Hotel's early years the tunnel was used to provide steam heat from the Steam Plant in Downtown Spokane to nearby buildings. However, the last boiler was shutdown in 1986, according to the Steam Plant's website, when Washington Water Power determined it was not economically feasible to continue the practice.

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Near the Hamilton exit, the crumbling ruins of a world class park are slowly reclaimed by nature...

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You probably drive by Liberty Park just under Interstate 90 all the time. The City of Spokane put thousands of dollars behind one of its first public parks park years ago, but now all that is left is a pile of rubble.

The park used to be one of Spokane's treasures. Historians said that it was even nicer than Manito Park. Now it is mostly just overgrown weeds, and passersby would have no idea that in the first year it was built, the amount of money that went into the park would be equivalent to $300,000 today.

The trash, overgrowth, and crumbling rock is all that is left of Liberty Park; a landmark now turned to ruins.

"It was a beautiful spot. You see the pictures, it just looks outstanding. You would never believe that was here," said historian Tony Bamonte.

Bamonte has spent months researching Liberty Park and its beginnings in 1897.

"This was a lot nicer than Manito at first," said Bamonte. "The first year they spent $10,000 on this. $10,000 in 1898 would be about $300,000 today."

In the early days, Liberty had a country club whose members didn't mesh well with the neighborhood.

"They were working class people and they did not hit it off with the wealthy," said Bamonte. "It was not a good fit."

Within a few years, the country club and greenhouse both moved to Manito, but Liberty remained a popular destination. Though it still had its share of problems.

"This was probably the most dangerous park they have ever had, mostly because of the cliffs," said Bamonte.

And it had a lake that was just too expensive to maintain.

"They city stopped doing any work and it was neglected," said Bamonte.

In 1965, city officials decided the cheapest freeway route would be straight through Liberty Park. And now, 50 years later, Liberty Park is among Spokane's best ruins.

"Nature has taken it back the best it could, but it is never going to take back these rock walls," said Bamonte.

There is still a lot more to this place than just trash and debris. Not only was this Spokane's second public park, it also held the city's first public playground.

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A maze of passageways sit hidden under the sidewalks and businesses of Downtown Spokane. Many people have heard of the tunnels, but few have had the opportunity to venture under the sidewalks.

So KREM 2 News set out to find traces of the systems that once connected businesses that have long since closed.

Underground 15 opened on the corner of First and Howard in 2014. The bar sits in the same spot once occupied by the Blue Spark. But it is what can be found in their basement that qualifies it as a Hidden Spokane attraction. In the basement, are artifacts dating back to as early as 1890.

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Zachary Wirchak, the owner of Underground 15, said visitors are amazed.

"Every once in a while I'll take a friend and show them around, and they're just blown away," Wirchak said.

"It's almost like an underground city."

Corroded pipes, gears, chains. There is a mismatching of eras here at Underground 15.

"When I see all the gears, I'm thinking 1900s or so," Wirchak said.

"It's also a type of futuristic feel too."

When Wirchak moved in, he was shocked by the amount of underground space.Much of the space is used for storage and shared with a number of other connecting businesses.

Wirchak said he never expected to find a labyrinth beneath his business.

"Well over 100 years old, that's all I know," he said. "That's all I want to know! Too creepy for me."

KREM 2 News toured the tunnel and found a maze of corridors just beyond the stairs. However, the space below the First and Howard is far from modern.

Within the tunnel there are metal doors with no function, a stairways leading to nowhere, and elevators side by side from opposing eras. The underground city even houses a boiler room which pre-dates everything.

"The old boiler room is an old style," Wirchak said. "Some of the stuff you can find down there is dated back to 1890."

The original building on First and Howard was constructed in 1890, just one year after the great fire leveled much of Downtown. The building was eventually demolished in 1917. Yet remnants of the historic building can be found in the underground tunnel.

"It's really interesting," Wirchak said.

Coming up on Friday, KREM 2 News wanders further underground in search of larger tunnels and basements of yesteryear. Tune in for more on the underground speakeasies used during the prohibition era and learn why the tunnel system that is left might be going away soon.

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Ron Oscarson is a local history buff who said he has been in these tunnels. In the early 1980s, he said that he used to explore some of the underground passages in Spokane.

"You could access some of these tunnels through metal doors on the sidewalk," said Oscarson. He said he used to enter in the tunnels from metal doors near the Bing Crosby Theater.

Some of these tunnels could be remnants of the network created by the Central Steam Plant, which supplied steam heat to the region until the 1980s.

But Spokane leaders have had a lot of these tunnels filled in due to safety concerns. Spokane officials recently approved a $2.1 million project to close even more.

However, not all of these underground spaces are abandoned and dangerous.

Andy Dennison owns Atticus on Howard Street. His basement is filled with unusual sights like murals painted on the walls.

"We know for sure it was a speakeasy," said Dennison.

But the basement also has a locked door leading to a neighboring shop.

"I think a number of things were going on. Obviously they needed to hide drinking and alcohol, so of course it was all in basements and backrooms," said Dennison.

Many of the underground tunnels end in dead ends, locked doors or doors that have been bricked off.

One of the largest parts of underground Spokane sits at the intersection of Main and Washington underneath and eye care business. The building was constructed in 1978. Yet, the space below dates back to 1911.

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