Historic Neighborhood Fights to Preserve Its Integrity

As the world continues to progress, many neighborhoods fight to preserve their character.  One such neighborhood is doing so by getting its land registered with its local historic registry.

Browne’s Addition is a small neighborhood where the past has mixed with the present. Considered by some to be the first Spokane suburb, Browne’s attracts many tourists. Three years ago, the neighborhood council members began working to get their district listed on the city’s register of historic places.

The neighborhood council members received federal grant money in 1976 to make improvements. Their first change was to put Browne’s Addition on the national register of historic places. Yet it is not on the city of Spokane’s historic register, according to the Spokane Historic Preservation Office.

Recently, developers have been tearing down some of the historic mansions of the area, Rick Biggerstaff, the neighborhood council chair, said. If the city listed Browne’s as a historic district, the council could set up rules for these developers to follow. Most of the guidelines would be about communication with the neighborhood, Biggerstaff said.

“It’s not that we don’t want developers in our neighborhood–we do want and need them,” Biggerstaff said.  “But we want them to work with us to preserve its historic integrity.”

The neighborhood’s history is available on a Spokane historical database. The online collection contains over 650 stories. Eastern Washington University public history professor Larry Cebula created the site. His students write the stories as part of his class. Zachary Wnek, now the curator of the Latah County Museum, wrote a few of the Browne’s Addition stories. He also ended up writing his master’s thesis on the neighborhood’s history.

In the summer of 1878, John J. Browne arrived in Spokane. Browne was a lawyer from the Midwest. He purchased 120 acres with A.M. Cannon. These two land plots are now known as Browne’s Addition and Cannon’s Addition.  In the late 19th century, some of Spokane’s wealthiest moved into the neighborhood, Wnek said.

Cebula said this was because there was a lot of wealth from the nearby wheat fields and mines.  “All that wealth had to go somewhere, so Spokane became the hub of the area,” he said.

Between the 1920s and the 1970s, developers and landowners chopped up a lot of the Browne’s Addition mansions into apartments, Wnek said. For a while this led to more people moving into the neighborhood. It was still a sought-after place to live since it was walking distance from downtown Spokane.

As popularity of automobiles increased, the necessity to live so close to downtown decreased. This led to a decrease in rent and resulted in “less than desirable people” in the neighborhood, Wnek said.

The council members used the federal grants to improve their neighborhood.  They used a Victorian theme throughout, Mary Lou Sproll, a Browne’s Addition resident, said.

“There were a lot of early movers and shakers who lived in the neighborhood back when Spokane was first developed,” Sproll said. “So the buildings and other features of Browne’s Addition have stories to tell.”

Sproll gives tours in late spring and summer as part of the Friends of Couer d’Alene Park volunteer group.

“The architectural and socioeconomic diversity is by far what makes this neighborhood so great,” Biggerstaff said.

Browne’s Addition’s success is not unique.  But it does provide a roadmap for other neighborhoods looking to preserve their historic character.