The Monroe Street Granite Retaining Wall

By Chuck King, with Tony and Suzanne Bamonte

Above, the Granite Building, at the corner of Riverside and Washington. Today, this corner is occupied by the Paulsen Medical Building. Photo courtesy of Chuck King.

According to Spokane Falls Illustrated, a promotional booklet published under the Auspices of the Spokane Falls Board of Trade, in August of 1889 by Frank L. Thresher, The Granite Building was located at the corner of Washington and Riverside. It had six stories and cost $100,000 to build (the sixth story was only partial). It was called the Granite Building because of the large granite blocks used in its construction. The blocks came in different sizes, and were either 12 or 16 inches high, with an average weight of approximately 1,500 pounds each.

The building was heated by steam and also included an elevator. The building’s owners were Henry L. Tilton and Isaac Kaufman, both well-known businessmen involved in real estate, which was their main purpose for constructing the building.

Although a drawing of the building is shown on page 37 of the Spokane Falls Illustrated, the actual building hadn’t been built yet. The Spokane Falls Illustrated booklet was started just before Spokane’s Great Fire of August 4, 1889. At that time, neither the book nor the building had been completed. Consequently, the Board of Trade then had to write about the results of the fire, and the long list of the buildings destroyed in the fire. The book also mentions four buildings that were undamaged from the fire. One of these was the Granite Building, where only the foundation work had been finished.

Looking west down Riverside, the Granite Building, at left in foreground, in downtown Spokane was, at the time, one of the grandest buildings in town. Post card courtesy of Chuck King.

The building was completed in the spring of 1890. The address listed in the city directory was W. 405 Riverside. Just as depicted in the Spokane Falls Illustrated, it was five stories and had a corner tower, which gave it a sixth story. The Spokane Falls Review boasted the Granite Building was the most elaborate and costliest in the city. As is usually the case, the ground floor and basement of the building were used as retail business space called the Granite Store, owned by a large merchandise dealer named Marcus Kaminsky.

A grand opening for the store was held on Saturday, April 26, 1890. The guests were presented with a souvenir of the event. The men were given a buttonhole bouquet of real flowers and the ladies an erasable sketch pad with an attached pencil, the back of which had an engraving of the Granite Building. According to the newspapers, the event was well-attended. The middle floors were used not only for the real estate offices of Tilton and Kaufman but other real estate firms as well.


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The 1896 City Directory lists, among others, the Boston and Spokane Land Company, the J. S. Frye Company, and Comstock and Annis. Other real estate companies, such as the Prescott Brothers and James C. Cunningham companies, sold insurance as well. Some of the names of the insurance companies were the Royal of Liverpool, Etna of Hartford, and the Employers Liability Assurance Corporation of London.

The upper floors of the building served as the Granite Hotel and, for many years, was the favorite boarding house in Spokane. In 1899 the Granite was expanded to the west. Also, with this addition came more office space.

By the early 1900s, many doctors and dentists offices were there, also, Spokane’s well- known photographer Charles Libby moved his studio into the Granite in 1909. Around that same time, the Tull Block, west of the Granite, was expanded to the east. By 1901, the whole block was a matching five stories.

The Granite Building, pictured right of center with a turret, stood at the current site of the Paulsen Building. One of James Glover’s many homes also stood near this location. Photo courtesy of Tony and Suzanne Bamonte.

According to the story in Spokane Falls Illustrated, the massive granite blocks came from the Little Spokane area north of Spokane, but apparently when the building was actually built, the granite came from the East End Granite company, near Dishman, in the Spokane Valley.

In several news items, including an interview in 1916 with former Mayor David Fotheringham, he said that he was the supervising contractor for the building of the James Glover mansion and that they had hauled the granite “seven miles from the east” and that the Granite Building was built from the same stone.

In June 1928, the Granite Building was torn down to make room for the Paulsen Medical and Dental Building. The granite blocks, according to a news article at the time of demolition, weighed an estimated total of around 700 tons. The blocks were purchased by the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church for the planned construction of a new building at Princeton and Jefferson on the north side of town. The cost to haul the blocks near the site was $1,700.

For nearly ten years, the granite blocks sat in a vacant lot by the church, as the church membership found them too costly to use. According to city records, in 1938, when the city paved that portion of the Monroe Street, it purchased the blocks from the church and used them to installed the granite wall on the Monroe Street hill.

So what happened to all the granite blocks? Nostalgia Magazine readers, the next time you are driving up the Monroe Street hill, and round the curve, look to the west. Have you ever noticed the block retaining wall? Yes, those are the blocks from that great old building. When I’m in the area, I always look over at the wall and think of the Granite Building, and the part it played in the early days of Spokane. After reading this story, I imagine that every time you go by it, this story will enter your mind.

Learn more about the Granite Building and the North Monroe Street Granite Retaining Wall in Episode 8 of the King’s Guide:

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