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he letter dated October 1, 1881,

St. Aloysius Church, though owned by the Diocese of Spokane, has always been at the heart of Gonzaga’s campus.

was addressed to Father Joseph M. Cataldo, SJ,

superior of the Jesuits’ sprawling Rocky Mountain Mission, and signed by twelve leading citizens of the young frontier city of Spokane Falls. It began with congratulations to Father Cataldo on his recent acquisition of a half section of railroad land along the Spokane River, a mile upstream from the big falls. The letter’s writers then quickly got to the point: Would Father Cataldo consider building a college or university on his 320-acre tract? “We are satisfied that such an institution established at this place would receive a large patronage not only from [the Northwest], but also from California and even the Eastern states,” they wrote. “You have the ability to build up here a great university. . . . Be assured that we will aid you in this matter to the full extent of our ability.” Father Cataldo, who had spent nearly twenty years as a Jesuit missionary on the Northwest frontier, was widely known for his intelligence, shrewd judgment, and toughness of character. The forty-four-year-old priest was hardly one to be swayed by the puffery of boomtown promoters. But these local boosters were stating what Father Cataldo believed to be true. In fact, Father Cataldo had quietly bought

that big parcel along the north bank of the river—paying the Northern Pacific Railway 936 hard silver dollars for it— because he believed the young city was ideally positioned to grow into the metropolitan center of the Inland Northwest. It was Father Cataldo’s intent to build on that site a college he would call Gonzaga, a place envisioned as the centerpiece of educational and spiritual enlightenment for the Jesuit order’s Rocky Mountain Mission. Father Cataldo wrote in reply to the city leaders that, indeed, he welcomed their support and would do all he could to push forward with the endeavor. Many obstacles remained before that grand vision could become reality. Joseph M. Cataldo was born in Sicily in 1837. He entered 3

Above from left, the original college building, the baseball grandstand, the original St. Aloysius Church, and the Administration Building, 1901

Senior Class of 1909 at Gonzaga College

Right, once the giant granite blocks for the foundation were in place, the brick laying began on the Administration Building. News that a photograph was going to be taken of the partially completed building’s main entrance resulted in a swarm of students and onlookers to pose for this photograph taken in 1898. Administration Building, Science Room, c. 1890s-1900s 12


were attending the bustling Saint Aloysius School a couple of blocks north on Mission Avenue. “I was at Saint Al’s from 1959 to 1967, and there were always at least two classes for each grade,” said Kathleen O’Connor, Ray and Helen Allen’s oldest daughter, who became assistant dean for library services at Gonzaga. “I honestly don’t think I knew anyone who wasn’t Catholic until I was in high school.” Paul Huetter grew up on Sharp Avenue, just down the street from the brick mansion originally owned by his grandfather, John Huetter, the early day contractor whose many local projects included Gonzaga’s historic College Hall. “My dad grew up in this house,” he said, sitting in the front parlor of the Huetter Mansion, now home to the university’s Alumni Association. “They had a pool table in the back room, and it was a favorite hangout for Bing Crosby and the other kids in the neighborhood.” Huetter’s late father, also named Paul, was a professor in the Gonzaga School of Engineering. He lived in just three homes during his life—all of them along Sharp Avenue in the heart of the Gonzaga neighborhood. “It was such an idyllic neighborhood nobody wanted to leave,” he said. “You had quite a cross section—different tradesmen and the men who worked at McGoldrick’s sawmill living alongside doctors and judges and college professors. There were Germans and Italians and lots of Irish families. The common denominator was that we all went to the same church.” In many respects, the university was less a focal point for families in the neighborhood than either Saint Aloysius Church or Saint Aloysius School. But neighborhood kids were welcome at Gonzaga, he said. “We had a key to the old gym, and we would go in there, turn on the lights, and play basketball,” Huetter said. “We played baseball on the two diamonds

Neighborhood boys include Bing Crosby, front center.

The GU Neighborhood


Gonzaga and its neighborhood have always been intertwined.

oon after he became Gonzaga’s fourth president, Father Leopold Van Gorp, SJ, unexpectedly found himself caught up in a whirlwind of real estate development. The young city of Spokane was booming, and the half section of land Father Cataldo had bought—dismissed at first as that “old piece of gravel near the falls”—suddenly was ripe for building. But Father Van Gorp was faced with a problem. The legal status of the 320 acres Father Cataldo had acquired for the college was still up in the air. The issue boiled down to this: how much of the land actually belonged to Gonzaga, and how much belonged to the Rocky Mountain Mission? The half section—which extended north from the river to present-day Mission Avenue, and from what is now Division Street east to the river’s bend near today’s Avista Corporation headquarters— had been purchased with general funds of the Society of Jesus. The college and the mission, related but financially and legally independent from one another, each claimed ownership. Father Van Gorp, as president of the college and superior of the mission, was in a unique position to settle the matter. What he decided was to grant eight acres to Gonzaga and retain the rest for the mission. To hold ownership, however, he incorporated the Pioneer Educational Society and deeded the mission’s

property to the new nonprofit entity. Soon, the Pioneer Educational Society was platting and subdividing pieces of its holdings and hiring architects and contractors to begin building the city’s first major residential district north of the Spokane River.

The Gonzaga neighborhood was known far and

Church, Holy Names Academy, Saint Aloysius School, Saint Joseph Orphanage, and the Saint Joseph care center for the elderly and infirm. Like many Gonzaga graduates, Ray Allen, who earned a degree in electrical engineering in 1950, settled in the neighborhood. He and his wife, Helen, raised seven children in a handsome Tudor-style brick house on Augusta Avenue, a short walk north of campus. Homes were large and well-kept, the tree-lined streets were wide, and nearly everyone in the neighborhood belonged to Saint Aloysius Parish. “All of the neighbors were Catholic, and just about everyone had a big family,” Allen said. “On our block, there were seventeen children, and all of them went to grade school at Saint Al’s.” Perhaps nothing reflects the strong Catholic character of the neighborhood better than the fate of Webster School, the public elementary school on Sharp Avenue that finally shut down in 1940 because virtually all of the children in the neighborhood

wide as the “Holy Land.” Father Van Gorp’s purpose was twofold. By selling building lots and selling or renting homes newly built on the Pioneer Educational Society’s property, he could generate money both for the operation of the college and for the support of the training of Jesuit scholastics. But as important, Father Van Gorp determined that by selling or renting to Spokane’s Catholic families, he could create a Catholic community with Gonzaga at its very heart. He succeeded so well that, for decades, the Gonzaga neighborhood was synonymous in Spokane with Catholicism and was known far and wide as the “Holy Land” of the Pacific Northwest. Indeed, no other neighborhood in the region was home to such a concentration of Catholic families and major Catholic institutions: Gonzaga University, Saint Aloysius 54

The Don Kardong Bridge and Centennial Trail make it easy for students and community members alike to stretch their legs. 55

Celebrating Gonzaga: The University and Its People