Most people who have lived in Spokane for more than a decade—and even some newcomers—have heard of the Paulsen Center and its penthouse suite with the stunning 360-degree view.
From this rooftop vantage point, Mount Spokane and surrounding mountains are visible to the northeast. The Spokane River clearly bifurcates the city below, the Spokane Valley streams out to the east and the South Hill fills the southern view.
It’s a perspective few Spokanites have enjoyed, but that’s about to change. Vincent Bozzi, owner of Bozzi Media (and publisher of Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine) has leased the space with immediate plans to rent the penthouse for short-term residential use, much like an exclusive—and historic—Airbnb.
The last resident of the penthouse, Helen Paulsen, moved into the space with her husband, Clarence I. “Cippy” Paulsen, in 1957. Clarence made sure she was guaranteed her lofty living quarters until her death, in 2007.
Of the many fascinating stories about the penthouse and its iconic residents, perhaps none is as intriguing the tale about where Helen kept her money.
As a child of the Great Depression, she had a great distrust in banks.
According to a family associate, she hid her funds in a crawl space of one of the apartment’s bathrooms.
Her children finally convinced her to put her money—nearly $1,000,000—in a bank. The cash was carted across the street to the Old National Bank in a shopping cart.
Today the 2,300-square foot space, sans the hidden dollar bills, is still a treasure.
For those visiting the Paulsen Center, the building itself is a walk into the past, when only the finest materials were used to build landmark buildings.
A precursor to the much taller Empire State Building, it boasts the era’s love for the Art Deco movement, with geometric designs, richly colored terra cotta ornamentation, marble floors and walls, mahogany staircases, mirrors and other reflective surfaces that require vigilant upkeep and, well, love.
But modern times being what they are, the building must accommodate present-day technological innovation, not an easy thing to do with such an old building. By way of example, parts of the old-fashioned elevator systems are on display across from the modern elevators; a remnant of the building’s pneumatic tubes—the method of message delivery in the early 1900s—remains in a stairwell.
Consisting of two contiguous buildings—one 11 stories and the other 16 stories—the Paulsen is home to a wide variety of professional tenants, from high-tech firms to architects and attorneys to a medical center that treats chronic pain. There is even a tattoo salon, which the assistant property manager says is “an extremely professional business, with the nicest people.” The building is 92 percent leased.
The services offered at the Paulsen are more common at a five-star hotel: a shoeshine service; a coffee bar; valet parking; a full-service post office; a 24-hour fitness center with lockers and showers; and connection to a skywalk across Riverside Avenue, with access to shops, restaurants and more professional services.
To get to the penthouse, guests take a single keyed-access elevator to the 17th floor. Once there, they step into a foyer, where, turning right, they can wander into the main room with a coffered ceiling and ornate molding. Up a few stairs is the sunroom, which is exactly that, filled with light. To the left of the elevator are the bedrooms, small by modern standards, but because of the many windows, they feel adequate.
When Paulsen lived in the penthouse she enjoyed a rose garden and some trees until the drainage from the plants seeped to ceilings below. The garden and the water feature were paved over with building material.
Also gone is the Tiffany blue that the Paulsens favored (except on the interiors of the kitchen cabinets); now the rooms are all in white, taupe, and a light beige.
But aside from the more neutral palette and a few unobtrusive updates to the electrical, heating and cooling systems, the management company that maintains the penthouse and the entire Paulsen Center has taken great pains to keep the Art Deco flavor of the space.
A Venetian marble frieze over the main room’s fireplace, etched mirrors in the bathrooms, a lavender-colored bathtub, all gloriously rococo, remain.
Before moving to Spokane in November, Robin Hamilton (Brodt) was the managing editor of Walla Walla Lifestyles, the regional magazine published by the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and The Seattle Times. She can be reached at [email protected]