Located at the west-end of Downtown Spokane, the Montvale Hotel stands as a symbol of the rich history of the Spokane area. Within the red brick walls lies a wealth of history that few building in Spokane can rival.
During the late 1800s, Spokane was beginning to gain recognition as a center for mining, lumber, agriculture, and rail transport. The area’s economic climate, along with nationally improved financial conditions, led to a bustling building boom. Between 1900 and 1910, the population of Spokane nearly tripled from 36,000 to 100,000 residents.
As the Spokane economy continued to grow, thousands of men, women, and children seeking employment flocked to the city of Spokane. With this influx of city dwellers came an increased demand for accommodations: single-occupancy hotels, tenement apartments, and lodging houses were built to house the growing number of homeless laborers and fortune seekers. The Montvale Block, built in 1899, was one such facility.
Even before the Montvale Building was erected in 1899, the site at Monroe and First was occupied first by Mrs. Clara Dobson and later by Mrs. Hilma Anderson, both of whom offered “furnished rooms” for rent. Located between downtown and fashionable Browne’s Addition, however, West First Avenue was becoming highly desirable real estate. In March 1899, Spokane probate judge John W. Binkley seized the chance to purchase the two lots at First Avenue and Monroe Street and built the three-story red brick building that he named after “Montvale Farms,” his beloved country estate on the Little Spokane River.
The Montvale offered street-level commercial space and two upper-level floors with 30 residential rooms on each floor and was the very first in a series of mixed-use buildings along West First Avenue to be built. The Montvale Block was initially advertised as apartments and was also one of Spokane’s first Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels.
In the early days, the Montvale had men’s and women’s common washrooms that held two toilets and one bathtub respectively and were shared by the residents of each floor. Steam-heat was provided to each room via coal-powered steamers in the basement, and in 1914, all residential rooms offered washbasins with hot and cold running water, built-in wardrobe closets, and furnished rooms. Room rates for typical turn-of-the-century SROs were advertised at $1 to $2 per week, or $5 a month.
Census records of 1900 and 1910 reveal nearly equal numbers of males and females living in the Montvale Apartments. The tenants’ places of origin were recorded as Canada and the eastern united States as well as Germany, Norway, Sweden, Ireland, and other European counties.
The street-level commercial bays in the Montvale Block numbered six, with five spaces fronting First Avenue and one facing Monroe Street. The bays housed various service and mercantile enterprises over the years but the largest and longest-standing tenant was Kilmer and Sons Hardware, who occupied the first four bays from the northeast corner of the building beginning in 1911. Kilmer and Sons also used the building’s basement for storage and even used some of the space as an emergency ammunition supply room during World War II. It was at Kilmer and Sons that a young man named Henry J. Kaiser worked for many years.
After the death of Judge John W. Binkley in 1931, Binkley’s daughter sold her father’s Montvale block to his close friend and longest-standing commercial tenant William Kilmer (Kilmer Hardware) in 1936. Kilmer owned the Montvale until 1966 when Sam A. Postell, a property management owner of Postell Enterprises and the Towne Center Motel, purchased the Montvale Block for $125,000.
During Postell’s ownership, the Montvale Block was used as a youth hostel during the 1970s and during Spokane’s Expo ’74, the Montvale’s single occupancy rooms were rented for $2 a night to respond to the influx of people coming to see the Expo. Postell later sold the property to Spokane attorney Werner Rosenquist in 1980 and under his watch the Montvale Block’s upper floors suffered from broken windows, water damage and general neglect.
In 1996, Robert C. Brewster, Jr. bought the property and the building was listed on the National Historic Register in 1998. In 1999 the main floor got its first occupant: Farwest Billiards and in January 2005, the elegant Montvale Hotel was opened as Spokane’s premier boutique lodging destination.
With the demolition of the Pennington Wing of the Davenport Hotel, The Montvale has gained the distinction as Spokane’s oldest hotel and will continue to provide visitors with classic comfort for many years to come.