Erected in 1912-13 as a temporary city hall that was intended to be used for five years, this office building served as the seat of city government for more than seventy years. WHile most civic buildings feature ornate exterior features such as grand pillars, the lack of ornamentation in this building reflects its intended and current purpose as and office building. The building design also reflects the designers' intent that the building could also be used as a warehouse. Given this utilitarian intent, the building exhibits qualities associated with commercial buildings common to the Chicago School of architecture. The building serves as a reminder of the rapid growth of Spokane at this time and the expectation that this growth would lead to the construction of a grand civic building that was never completed.
The peak of Spokane's growth occurred in the first part of the 1910s as the population grew from 36,848 in 1900 to 104,402 in 1910, and then 150,323 by 1917. During this period, railways brought people and building supplies to Spokane and this growth was fueled by the construction of line by the Milwaukee and North Coast Railroad. When the new proposed line was completed, it became evident the existing city hall would be in the way of that line. As a result, the city sold the building and moved in 1912. The idea at that time was that the city would build a temporary structure that would first serve the government. This building would be used as a warehouse, its designers imagined, but as they city's growth slowed the leaders decided not to build a new structure and this building served as the headquarters for the city's government seat for seventy years.
The Old City Hall design and lack of ornamentation point to the building's original intent as a temporary office building that would transition to a warehouse. Thus, the design exemplifies the Chicago School of Commercial Architecture style Because it was built with that commercial style, the building remained structurally sound and continues to look today much as it did in the early twentieth century.
While little documentation exists regarding the reason behind using the structure beyond its intended few years, it may be due to Spokane's substantial slowdown in population growth. By 1920, census data showed almost no growth over a five-year span. In fact, when one considers natural growth rate, it was clear that many were leaving Spokane. As such, city planners and boosters by the 1920s, and certainly during the Great Depression, began to tout Spokane as a quiet town fitting for families, rather than aspire to compete with major U.S. cities as major industrial and economic center.
Regardless of the reason, the building stood as the center of Spokane government activities through the early 1980s, from a time when Spokane's rise to prominence had peaked to a time when it enjoyed the status as a regional hub of the so-called "Inland Empire" consisting of Idaho, Montana, and Washington.
Morrow, John P. "Nomination Form: Spokane City Hall Building, Old City Hall." National Register of Historic Places.
Roberts, Jesse. "Old City Hall." Historic Spokane. spokanehistorical.org. Accessed August 4, 2017.
Spokane Historic Preservation Society. "Spokane City Hall. " Historic Properties of Spokane. historicspokane.org. Accessed August 04, 2017.
Stratton, David H. 2005. Spokane & the Inland Empire: An Interior Pacific Northwest Anthology. Pullman, Wash: Washington State University Press, 2005.