The Community Building’s mission is to host, inspire and be a catalyst for social change in Spokane and throughout our region.
Who We Are
In these spaces, we aspire to be a culture of organizations and individuals working independently and together for the benefit of the community at large.The best way to understand our little neck of the woods on the east end of West Main known as “The Community Building” is to think of it in two ways. The most obvious is as a bricks and mortar place which can be Googled for its location. Two adjacent buildings, the original Community Building and, later, the Saranac, were purchased and restored by Jim Sheehan to offer a multitude of affordable spaces for offices, conference and meeting rooms, and retail enterprises.
You might also think of “community building” in a more philosophical way. The phrase is sort of a pun, a playful double-entendre. Community building is a purposeful endeavor to create and foster connections and ideas, and the buildings provide a centrally located and inspiring environment in which to engage. A primary philosophical underpinning of the whole enterprise is that real connection takes place in person. Sharing space, projects, resources and support creates a synergy that yields benefits for all.
While the buildings’ tenants are a dynamic, diverse group, all share a commitment to human rights, social justice and protecting the natural environment. Many would identify as “progressive,” a term which has been claimed and co-opted by various groups and movements for over a hundred years. Jane Addams, often described as one of the pillars of the American Progressive Era, operated under the belief “that the things which make men alike are finer and better than the things that keep them apart, and that these basic likenesses, if they are properly accentuated, easily transcend the less essential differences of race, language, creed and tradition.” In 1886, Addams strove “to provide a center for a higher civic and social life; to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises.” These words, from Addams’ Twenty Years at Hull-House, aptly describe the founding principles of the Community Building enterprise.
An Evolving Experiment
Community building is dynamic. It is always evolving. By the same token, it had to start somewhere. This story started with Jim Sheehan, a Spokane public defense attorney whose life changed dramatically in 1997 when he unexpectedly inherited a boatload of money. Unlike legions of heirs who spend their inheritance on pleasure and leisure, Sheehan wanted to give back to his community. After 20+ years as a public defender, Sheehan understood that many people and community interests fall through the cracks of the judicial establishment. He was inspired to create a progressive law firm, the Center for Justice, to represent the underserved in our community.
The Center for Justice filled an important niche in Spokane. As demand for services grew, Sheehan purchased a 100-year-old, three-story brick building on the edge of Spokane’s central business district to house the law firm. Sheehan and his team restored the building with a commitment to beauty and the environment, creating some of the most striking working and meeting spaces in the city. They dubbed it “Community Building,” and the Center for Justice moved in as its anchor tenant.
The Community Building project expanded in 2007 when the adjoining building, the former Saranac Hotel, was gutted and renovated to host not only more non-profit, Native American and governmental offices, but also a restaurant, movie theater, and art gallery. The Saranac restoration is distinguished for its commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency; it received LEED platinum certification, the highest standard awarded by the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design.
The Saranac restoration is not only green to the max, it is stunningly beautiful. From exposed brick walls to salvaged car part siding to regional plants on the terrace, a keen aesthetic sensibility permeates the space.
The notion of community building expanded further in early 2010, when the Main Market Co-op opened across the street. This local food mecca, where a tire store and auto repair shop used to be, further transformed this little downtown neighborhood into a hot spot destination for foodies and fans of locally produced fare.
The Community Writing Project is the latest sprout in the ever-evolving community building experiment. This new project is a collaboration among local writers that aims to shine a little progressive light on the people, places and things that impact Spokane and the region.