Cyrus O’Leary’s tear-down puts Louis Ray on familiar ground

Colin Mulvany photo

Louis Ray, owner of Ray’s Demolition, works at tearing down the old Cyrus O’Leary’s restaurant in downtown Spokane on Wednesday. This is the second building Ray has torn down in the same location.

November 15, 2012 - Updated: November 16, 1:31 p.m.

For the past two weeks, it’s been déjà vu all over again for Louis Ray.

The owner of Ray’s Demolition is tearing down Cyrus O’Leary’s, the longtime downtown Spokane eatery.

In 1978, when Ray was 37, he tore down the building that sat on the same spot, making way for the construction of Cyrus O’Leary’s.

“It’s just a job,” said Ray, who’s 71 and is still the main operator of the diesel excavator that knocks down walls, slashes through the roof and guts the inside of the once-popular business at 516 W. Main Ave. near the Bennett Block building.

Wrecking a place where couples celebrated and parents toasted graduations doesn’t produce much emotion for him.

“Nope. I only went into the restaurant one time. And I didn’t like the meal I got,” Ray said.

The tear-down, which is expected to take another two weeks, will leave an open space along Main Avenue between Howard and Stevens streets. Property owner Dru Hieber said she has no immediate plans for the property.

The Hieber family has owned the Bennett Block building since the 1920s. In 1922, Hieber’s grandfather John Hieber completed purchases of four businesses along Main. He was hailed then as the owner of the largest single block of downtown buildings.

John Hieber Jr., Dru Hieber’s father, took over managing the buildings, renovating and bringing in new tenants. In the mid-1950s he razed retail businesses west of what was then the Ritz Movie Theater, later to become Rocky Rococo Pizza.

Those included a Chinese restaurant, the Spokane Garden Store, a men’s clothing store and a market that sold horse meat. At the time, the business strip was a few blocks from the train station, and retail activity was brisk, Dru Hieber said.

The torn-down businesses were replaced by Miller & Hahn Western Wear in 1957.

Tearing down Miller & Hahn was a snap, Ray said. By comparison “this one,” he said as he gestured to the rubble of Cyrus O’Leary’s, “is a steel structure. You have to go slower. It takes more time. You start at the back and move forward.”

Neither Hieber nor Ray will say how much the demolition is costing.

“I’m probably getting paid the same as I did the previous time,” in the 1970s, Ray said. “Not that much.”

In addition to his fee, Ray gets salvage rights for all metals, wood and materials worth recycling. “What he does is an art,” Hieber said. “I’ve seen him work for years, and Louie was doing salvage of materials before salvaging was the fashion.”

The first owner of the restaurant, Cyrus Vaughn, sold it in 1996 to Erkki Oranen. Hieber said she and Oranen kept a happy landlord-tenant relationship going until recently. Hieber said Oranen resisted suggestions to upgrade and modernize the restaurant. “He didn’t want to make changes to the business,” she said.

Oranen complained that Hieber wanted to raise his lease to the point he couldn’t afford to stay open. Hieber said she lowered his rent during the massive snow storm in 2010 and left it at that rate.

The business closed in September 2011, and Oranen sold off the memorabilia and curiosities that lined the restaurant’s walls.

The bar and a moose head were bought by Mark Starr, who intends to use them when he reopens his own eatery, David’s Pizza.

“I move pretty slow and carefully,” Hieber said of her next plans for the space. She’s considering a number of renovations for the entire Bennett Block and the Rocky Rococo building. Considering possibilities, Hieber said she tries to listen to her father’s voice giving her advice.

“I think through his eyes,” Hieber said.

No plans yet

The tear-down will leave an open space along Main Avenue between Howard and Stevens streets. Property owner Dru Hieber said she has no immediate plans for the property.

Map of this story's location

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