Chancery and St. Elmo named Most Endangered
October 8, 2020 | 9:22 am
from Washington Trust
The Washington Trust for Historic Preservation announced that two eastern Washington properties are being added to their list of Washington’s Most Endangered Places: the Chancery in Spokane and the St. Elmo building in Palouse.
The announcement was made as part of the Washington Trust’s annual fundraiser, Vintage Washington, which was held virtually on September 10. In addition to being the Washington Trust’s annual fundraiser, Vintage Washington is also a celebration of the Most Endangered Places program and highlights new listings, ongoing campaigns, and important recent saves.
The Chancery holds a position of prominence in downtown Spokane as an anchor structure in the National Register Riverside Historic District on what has been described as “Spokane’s most beautiful street.” Originally built in 1910 as the Western Union Life Insurance Building, the property was designed by famed architect Kirtland Cutter and underwent a significant expansion and redesign by another renowned Washington architect, Gustav Pehrson, in 1924.
The building was home to a number of life insurance companies until 1966, when it was sold to Spokane’s Roman Catholic Diocese, serving as the diocese headquarters for over 40 years. In 2006, the Diocese sold the property, remaining as tenants in the building until last year. The current owner is engaged in evaluating redevelopment scenarios for the entire block. No determination has been made regarding the future of the Chancery Building, but the owner has completed several successful rehabilitation projects in the past. Spokane Preservation Advocates (SPA), the Trust’s local advocacy partner, are hopeful the building can serve as a prominent feature of the redeveloped block, keeping the street one of Spokane’s most beautiful. “Save the Chancery, respect our history,” says Spokane Preservation Advocates. “It’s an irreplaceable symbol of Spokane’s civic and commercial history.”
Built in 1888, the former railroad-boom hotel known as St. Elmo’s has been a visual and historic anchor in downtown Palouse for over 100 years. With its mansard roof and metal shingles, it is one of the few existing buildings in rural eastern Washington in the Second Empire style. St. Elmo’s spans nearly an entire city block and stands tall as the area’s only three-story structure, making it a major component of the Palouse Main Street Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
In recent history, St. Elmo’s has served as a hub for downtown businesses and residences, with three storefronts and upstairs apartments. In a town the size of Palouse, these rental spaces are crucial to economic health and vibrancy. The current owners purchased the building in 2018 with plans to rehabilitate, but after discovering more structural issues than anticipated, they decided to demolish the building and asked the existing tenants to vacate.
Luckily, community members helped convinced the owners to put the building back on the market to give someone else the chance to save one of Palouse’s most iconic buildings. A core group has formed the Friends of St. Elmo’s organization, which nominated the building to our Most Endangered Places program, and are already working to raise local awareness. “The St. Elmo is so much more than just a building to our community,” says the Friends of St. Elmo’s. “It is part of a cultural corridor that holds the stories of our past and our visions for our future.” The Washington Trust has already been working with the Friends of St. Elmo’s on strategy and the search for a buyer, or group of buyers, that won’t shy away from a challenge.
Since 1992, the Washington Trust has maintained a list of Most Endangered Places as its principal advocacy and awareness program for sites significant to communities across Washington. Once properties are added to the Most Endangered Places list, the Washington Trust offers support in a variety of ways including advocacy strategy, technical assistance, publicity, stakeholder negotiations, and attention from our statewide network of preservationists.
Nominations to the list are solicited from the public and selected by the Washington Trust’s Board of Directors. Inclusion on the list is reserved for those places of particular historic or cultural significance for the community and for Washington State.
Watch the announcement in our Vintage Washington recording!
(St. Elmo starts at 36:39; the Chancery starts at 39:40)
St. Elmo’s in downtown Palouse today, courtesy of the Friends of St. Elmo’s.
Historic photo of the Chancery when it housed life insurance companies.
St. Elmo’s was originally built as the “Hotel Palouse.”