Thursday, April 8, 2010

Building Spokane History

Brick by brick...

Over the weekend there was an article in the local newspaper (the Spokesman) that told how the repaving of Lincoln Street - a main road on the South Hill - between 17th and 29th Avenues had hit a bit of a snag. Turns out, way back decades ago, before asphalt took over, the road had been paved with red bricks. Rather than dig up the bricks back then, they had just paved over them. This time, when the construction went to dig up the road to repave it from scratch, they ran into beautifully aligned bricks that sat on their edge in sweet "v" shaped forms.

(It appears to be an article accessible without a subscription. So here's a link.)

The article quotes a local neighbor as saying, “Those bricks are just like new – as even and level and true as they were originally. Except for 100 years of dirt.”

There was also a rumor running through the neighborhood that the bricks came from "Henry Brooks' old brickyard" - what is now beautiful Cannon Park - which sits right there just east of Lincoln, between about 17th and 20th. According to the article, that's how Cannon Park was born - because of the dip in the land where the clay had been, there was a space ready for a small, man-made lake. And the city made it. Voila.

The article said that the bricks belonged to the construction company (!) - but that the company didn't mind if the locals picked up a brick or two in memory of the past. (I'm still stuck on the idea that the company owns these bricks. How can that be? How can there even be a legitimate contract that allows the city to bargain away its citizens' right to a piece of history???)

On Saturday, I went to the grocery store - Rosauers, a locally-owned chain, my neighborhood store - at 14th and Lincoln to pick up some groceries, saw the construction signs, remembered the article and thought, hey! I need some bricks! I knew picking up one or two was allowed by the Benevolent Construction Company (that otherwise planned to gather the bricks - hundreds of thousands of them, according to the article - and sell them down the road - yucky...), so I headed that way. I parked my car on a side street and walked towards Lincoln. It started to snow, and the wind whipped around. I shivered - it's April! - but kept on going.

And then, there they were. Thousands of bricks, neatly stacked on their sides, in "v" shapes, all running up and down the street. Mostly the exposed ones were on the sides of the street, near the sidewalks. But still I could see them and, in an instant, could imagine this brick-laid street from the 1910s, and 20s - maybe even through the 30s or 40s... Here's a not-great close-up of it - where you can kind of see the bricks in layers, going back...

And as it often can happen in moments like these, the synchronicities of life took over and there appeared an 80-something-year-old man who happened to be taking a walk right as I arrived at the street. We started laughing about the weather. He suggested that, if we waited long enough, there would be enough snow to have a snowball fight. I told him why I was there - he told me he remembered the bricks getting paved sometime in the 1930s - I told him I have this baseball novel about the 1946 Spokane Indians team - and the bus crash - and that he probably remembered that - he said of course, and how he knew Levi McCormack (one of the players - a Nez Perce Indian and leader of the team) and explained how most stores in town wouldn't sell alcohol to Indians back then - only Ralphs, at 14th and Lincoln, where the Rosauers now sits - and they always were nice to Levi - and how he had played golf with Levi and he remembered one time when Levi hit the ball a long way - (I'm not a golfer, so the length didn't impress me enough for me to keep the number in my head)... And this man looked at me in awe, so I looked back at him like, wow - that's impressive.

And then he told me how Levi used to live on 12th, over by Maple. I said - well, that's near where I live!! (How is that possible?) I grilled him about the location - sounded about three blocks from where I am now - and then I grilled him about exactly when, so I can go and look it up in the reverse city directory in the downtown library. How cool might that be? That I wrote this novel just blocks from where Levi McCormack once lived.

(That's already true about another story I want to do - a screenplay that involves Spokane at the turn of the 20th century - several of the "characters" of the screenplay lived just blocks from where I live now...)

So then I thought I should get this man's contact information, or name even, but he already was leaving, walking up Lincoln, too hard of hearing to hear me call after him... so I let him go. And turned to the man who had arrived with a pick ax. Told him why I was there - he nodded, told me he was there for the same thing. "Can I take your photo?" I asked. He blanched. "Well, how about if I take a photo of your pick ax?" I suggested. He thought that would be all right.

So here's a photo of the man's pick ax at the bricks:

So THEN I went to my friend's house to drop off a birthday present for her husband, and I told her the story from Saturday, and she said she'd been sick and hadn't been able to go get her own commemorative set of bricks (I'd picked up one and a half and a piece as a trilogy) and she said she thought perhaps I should give her one, and I said they're a set, I can't break up a set - and then she said she's the one who does all the research on Spokane's history, and that I should see her books stacked up, and then I said that I'm the one who wrote the $#!!* book, and we both were laughing as we each tried to outdo the other... And they really were bricks that belonged to her, I could tell, so I brought them in and we set them down in front of the fairy fountain that I gave to her a few years ago as a birthday present (birthdays around that house seem to do me in).... Can you see them on the patio there? Right in front of the fountain...

So then it was still only dusk, and I was driving home, and I thought, heck, maybe there's more brick still there.... And I went and there they were - thousands, still - and I grabbed one and a half and three pieces (a set of five, this time - seemed right) - and there they are, still on the floor of the passenger side of my car, waiting to find a permanent home.

And now I hear that the construction company doesn't even want local people taking any bricks away - what a neighborly approach - so there's nothing left to do but enjoy the few pieces of history that they did permit to leave.


Susan Moyer said...

Hi, Beth,

I so enjoyed reading this blog story! You are so attuned to the history of Spokane -- I just think it's fascinating! And to live only a few blocks from where Levi McCormack lived! That gives me goosebumps.

I just completed Until the End of the Ninth a couple weeks ago and enjoyed its glimpse into the lives of those baseball players and the 1946 baseball year for Spokane. (It reminded me of the 2001 Mariners, where fans often sported signs that read, "Two outs, two strikes, so what?") You did a good job of developing "the guys" on the 1946 Spokane team so we could relate to the type of people they were -- their values, families, personalities, hopes and dreams.

My husband and I have had mini-season tickets to the Indians every summer since we moved to Spokane in the winter of 2003/2004. I remember hearing of the bus accident in the games we attended in 2006 and also wondering of the impact of such a tragedy on the team -- even to this day -- and also on the city. Thanks so much for exploring it further and bringing it to life for us in these modern times. I also loved the photos of the old ball parks, paper articles and the memorial game program.

I definitely have a nostalgia of some kind for things of the past. It doesn't seem to be as deep as deja-vu, but I always like to see how things used to be. I was so glad your book included those pictures.

Your blog really looks great! I'll be checking in more often.

Susan Moyer

Beth Bollinger said...

Thanks so much, Susan, for the posting and for letting me know you had a chance to read the book. They were such special men. It was 2006 that the team had a special 60th anniversary commemoration before the June 23rd game (the date of the last game they played - and won, btw). I am thinking you may have been there for that game. And yes, that Mariners slogan would have suited them well. Glad to hear from you!