Structure Type: built works - public buildings - courthouses

Designers: Fotheringham, David B., Building Contractor (firm); Ritchie, Willis, A., Architect (firm); David B. Fotheringham (building contractor); Willis Alexander Ritchie (architect)

Dates: constructed 1893-1895

3 stories

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1116 West Broadway Avenue
West Central, Spokane, WA 99260

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Building History

The formation of Spokane County and the location of its capital was long and convoluted. It was first formed on 02/15/1860, with the county seat at Pinkney City. Pieces of the county territory were removed first in 1861 to form part of Shoshone County, and then in 1863, the new Idaho Territory took with it 67% of what was Spokane County. A year later, the remnants of Spokane County were absorbed into Stevens County, with its capital at Colville, WA. Efforts to make Spokane Falls the seat of Stevens County failed in late 1875, but, in 1879, territory for a Spokane County was redrawn and restored. Cheney vied with Spokane Falls for the privilege of hosting the county government and stole a contested election to maintain the honor in 1880; six years later, another election was held, with Spokane Falls coming out the victor. The first courthouse was occupied soon after this second election, and was used until it became decrepit. Its condition must not have been too good from the beginning, as a local citizen, D.P. Jenkins, donated a parcel of land and $1,000 in 1887 for the erection of a new courthouse in which the community could take pride.

In the wake of statehood in 1889, many WA counties chose to build new courthouses that served boosterish purposes showcasing local taste and prosperity to attract new residents and commercial enterprises. In rapid succession, significant courthouse competitions were launched in King (1889), Whatcom (1889-1890) Pierce (1890) Jefferson (1890), Clark (1890) and Thurston (1890) Counties competing with one another to erect the grandest county seat. Spokane held its competition last, and sought to out-do all of the others, producing the most expensive and distinctive courthouse in the state. Construction began in 10/1893 and was completed at a cost of $273,600, by 11/20/1895, when all county government employees had moved into their new accommodations. (See Spokane County, "Spokane County History," accessed 01/25/2016.)

Building Notes

On 06/07/1893, Spokane County announced a design competition for a new courthouse, and issued a brief outlining building specifications; it should be of "...brick and stone or stone as near fireproof as practical to include commodious vaults for records, plumbing, heating, sewerage, closets, and everything necessary for the courthouse and jail to cost no more than $250,000." To insure wide participation, county officials provided the top four designers cash prizes, the first-place contestant receiving a fee of 5% of the construction cost. (See Spokane County Courthouse History,"Accessed 07/24/2014.) According to architectural historian Jeffrey Ochsner, by 07/18/1893, six firms had made the final cut: C.B. Seaton, L.L. Rand, Herman Preusse, Willis A. Ritchie, and Cutter and Poetz. Cutter and Poetz, formed their firm in 1889, and, would in the future, develop great prestige among local designers, but in 1893, they still had not built large-scale, fireproof buildings as required by the program.

Only the youthful Willis A. Ritchie (1864-1931), an architect who arrived in WA from Winfield, KS, in 1889 or 1890, could boast of a built resume that had included, by 1893, a sizable inventory of modern, fireproof courthouses for six counties: Clark, King, Jefferson, Whatcom, and Thurston. To provide himself a better chance to win the Spokane County Courthouse job, Ritchie opened an office in Spokane in 01/1892. In four years, he had won a startling number of competitive public commissions, and, as a result, became a controversial figure among his professional colleagues. In multiple cases in several cities, snubbed rivals questioned Ritchie's ethics and professional methods. It is likely that he could present his accomplishments confidently before county officials and did have an impressive track record for building safe, up-to-date public buildings. He also knew how to lobby politicians, and seems to have worked very closely with contractors to lower construction bids. For the Spokane commission, John Rigby, a Seattle building contractor with whom Ritchie had worked twice previously, submitted the low bid. Spokane local builders became upset by the contract, and Rigby was forced to withdraw, in favor of local practitioner, David B. Fotheringham (d. 1930). During the Progressive Era, the elimination of graft from government became a prime topic, and citizens groups in Spokane including the People's Party Central Club and the Taxpayer's Association lobbied the county commissioners to investigate the construction contract. A grand jury was convened, and in a 05/08/1895 report concluded that "no evidence of boodle or corruption" had occurred and that the "wicked and malicious" charges were politically motivated in advance of the next county election. (See Jeffrey Karl Ochsner, Willis A. Ritchie Public Architecture in Washington, 1889-1905," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, vol 87, no. 4, Fall 1986, p. 208.)

Ritchie designed Spokane's palatial courthouse in a hybrid of the Chateauesque and Richardsonian Romanesque Styles. At the time, French Renaissance city halls were far more unusual than those done in the popular (and somewhat overbuilt) Richardsonian manner, and this chateauesque character gave it distinctiveness. The prime French features were its smooth masonry cladding, mansard roofs, conic, candle-snuffer tower roofs, and wall dormers. One model mentioned as inspirational for Ritchie was the Château de Chambord (1519–1547). Resemblances to it mainly consist of a shared division of the front facade into four rounded projections of equal height. The Chateau d'Azay Le Rideau (1518-1527), however, suggests a greater influence. This small, unfinished chateau seems likely to have provided Ritchie the basic configuration of the courthouse's front elevation. Chateau d'Azay Le Rideau possessed belt courses proportioned similarly to the Spokane building, with the main commonality being the narrowly spaced pair of courses located under each window, stretching the length of the facade. In the courthouse's case, Ritchie added another pair of these narrow courses (under both second and third story windows) in his design. The proportion and design of the courthouse's wall dormers and candle-snuffer roofs may also have derived from Chateau d'Azay Le Rideau.

The tower's form, however, resembled that of the renowned Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh, PA, designed by H.H. Richardson between 1884-1888.


The original Chateausque building underwent renovation and modernization in 1946, and a large modern wing, costing $525,000, was added to the north of it in 1956.

The 1895 courthouse underwent renovations in late 2006 that lasted until 01/2009. Costing $2 million, a long list of deferred maintenance items received attention. This included: "...structural repair and re-pointing of the brickwork, structural repair to the tower roof, complete new slate roof on the tower (original roofing over 100 years old), structural repair to tower decks and deck covers, restoration and repair of decorative terra cotta, and replacement of the flag pole." According to a Spokane County web site: "The project was extremely difficult with the scaffolding needing to go around the entire tower roof but not touch any of the roof. There were areas of the tower that had not been seen or touched since the tower was built, and there were 100 year old construction techniques that had to be learned to assure the repairs were made properly." The Sate of Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) paid for half of the historic preservation effort. (See "Spokane County Courthouse History,"Accessed 07/24/2014.)

Spokane Register of Historic Places (1986-08-25): ID n/a

PCAD id: 13364