Lights in the Darkness
Historic Churches of Spokane
Early settlers to Spokane brought with them many customs and traditions of their homelands, and religious beliefs were certainly no exception. Jesuit priests from Italy, railroad workers from Ireland, farmers and lumbermen from central and northern Europe, and homesteaders from the eastern United States all came to the region in the mid-to-late 1800s.
While no churches from the earliest days of Spokane survived the 1889 fire, many examples from the following years are still standing today. The following four houses of worship provide a sample of the unique cultural and architectural influences of Spokane's historic churches.
First Congregational Church of Spokane
411 S Washington St
While several wooden frame churches certainly existed during Spokane's early years, none predating the devastating Great Fire of 1889 survive today. The first church built in Spokane following the blaze was the First Congregational Church, making it the oldest extant church in the city.
Originally housed in a wooden structure at Sprague and Bernard downtown, the congregation made the bold decision to not just rebuild after the fire, but to greatly expand the scope of their church building. The replacement church, completed in 1890, was constructed with stone, symbolic of the sense of permanence the congregation wished to express following the tragedy of the year before.
Designed and built by John K. Dow & Worthy Niver, the church is constructed with rough granite and is a stunning example of the Norman architectural style. In 1927, a major renovation saw the church's round turret replaced by a stone tower, giving the church its unique castle-like appearance.
After merging with a Presbyterian congregation in the late 1890s, the church took on its current name of Westminster Congregational Church and is a member of the United Church of Christ, which it voted to join in 1963.
Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes
1115 W. Riverside Ave
The chair of the Catholic Bishop of Spokane and the spiritual center of Roman Catholics in the Inland Northwest is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, located on a historic stretch of Riverside Avenue in downtown Spokane.
Designed by Julian and Williams Architects and completed in 1908, the cathedral is a highly visible and recognizable example of the Italian Romanesque Revival style. Featuring two 164-foot spires, a monumental pipe organ, and exquisite Bavarian stained glass, Lourdes Cathedral is an impressive sight (and sound) to behold.
On the site of a converted carpenter's shop-turned-church, the cathedral occupies the same location as Spokane's oldest Catholic church, founded by Fr. Joseph Cataldo in 1881. The current structure was finished in 1908 and became the cathedral for the newly formed Diocese of Spokane, established by Pope Pius X in 1913.
While maintaining a presence as a place for all the region's more than 90,000 Catholics to celebrate Mass, the cathedral also fulfills the vital mission of serving the many poor and elderly residents of Spokane's Downtown and Browne's Addition neighborhoods. A highly active outreach program ensures that Our Lady of Lourdes remains as important to the community as it was upon its inauguration as the seat of the first Bishop over 100 years ago.
St. Aloysius Church
330 East Boone Ave
Started in 1909 and finished two years later, St. Aloysius Catholic Church is one of the most recognizable houses of worship in Spokane. Its cross-adorned twin spires are a prominent Spokane landmark and feature in the logo of Gonzaga University, on whose campus “St. Al's” can be found.
Although legally a separate entity from the university, St. Aloysius Church serves Gonzaga's students, staff, and faculty, as well as the surrounding historic Logan neighborhood, which includes the boyhood home of twentieth century singer and actor Bing Crosby. The university and the church even share a namesake in St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a sixteenth century Italian aristocrat and Jesuit priest who became the patron saint of students and victims of plague.
The history of St. Al's begins with Fr. Joseph Cataldo, an Italian Jesuit missionary who came to the Inland Northwest in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In 1881, he dedicated the first Catholic church in the city (named St. Joseph's), and founded the college that would become Gonzaga University six years later.
St. Aloysius Church was built to serve the university and the growing Catholic community in the surrounding neighborhood, an area nicknamed “Little Vatican”. A popular legend surrounding the church states that green and red decor found on opposite sides of the church's interior represent the competing interests of Irish and Italian parishioners of St. Al's, both significant immigrant groups in Spokane at the time of construction.
A wooden structure that occupied the site of the current church was torn down in 1909 to allow for construction of the current brick building. Designed by Preusse & Zittle architects of Spokane, it is an example of the Romanesque style popular among Catholic church buildings of the era.
Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
127 East 12th Ave
Soaring high above Spokane's tree-topped South Hill, the St. John's Cathedral is a dramatic landmark visible from many locations around the city. Begun in the 1920s and still partially under construction to this day, the cathedral is the chair of Spokane's Episcopal bishop and the premier church for the region's adherents of the Anglican Communion.
Only partially completed but still usable at its initial opening in 1929, all work on the nascent cathedral halted following the stock market crash in late October of that year. Throughout the subsequent Great Depression and Second World War, the cathedral remained unfinished, before construction finally resumed in the late 1940s when the tower and other elements were added.
A unique example of classical Gothic architecture, St. John's Cathedral was designed by Harold C. Whitehouse of Spokane, himself a member of the congregation. Situated near the top of the South Hill, the cathedral towers impressively over the surrounding foliage and buildings in a manner reminiscent of the old world churches from which it borrows its design.
Written by:John Spracklen