40 for 40: Pend Oreille County
Metaline Falls School/Cutter Theatre

By Holly Chaimberlainprevious story | next story | all stories

Community school to community theatre. How did the transformation happen?

The 1912 Metaline Falls School was just one sign that town founder and promoter Lewis Larson had hit the ground running when he registered the plat in 1910. In rapid succession, the Danish immigrant and minerals expert explored the area, identified its mining potential, attracted the Idaho and Washington Northern Railroad and Inland Cement Company, established the water and light company and a real estate firm, and built a home, hotel, and office building.

Larson engaged the same architectural firm for the imposing brick school that he had for his own 1910 home, the prestigious Spokane firm led by Kirtland Cutter. The school commission was a rare one for the firm, more well-known for residential and commercial designs, but Larson’s selection of a prominent architect signified his grand intentions for town growth and stature.

Grades one through eight were taught in the building until the 1920s when high school students who previously had had to attend school in Spokane were added. The building, the only school in town until 1956 and also a community gathering center, was in continuous school usage until 1974. 1960s school consolidation resulted in the loss of the high school curriculum. Elementary students had already moved out, thus leaving only the junior high. Following school closure in 1972, the Selkirk School District used the building for offices, then storage.

More than a decade of lack of occupancy took its toll but community residents sought a new use. Local resident Van Whysong was helped in 1988 by then-Washington SHPO staff Leonard Garfield to write a successful National Register nomination. Whysong was part of a non-profit performing arts group organized in 1987 which purchased the building and set about the rehabilitation.

In the fall of 1991, Trust members were invited by the North Country Theatre Group to provide technical advice on rehabilitation and re-use of the building, officially re-named The Cutter Theatre that year. Hint: you know you are among dedicated preservationists when they name their building after its architect!

Dedication indeed. Most of the 14,000 hours of rehabilitation needed in the first year alone were performed by volunteers.

In 2009, the Trust was pleased to award a $2000 Sivinski Washington Preserves Grant to assist with structural stabilization and exterior improvement. Metaline Falls actors continue to tread the historic boards in The Cutter Theatre today.

This story is part of a series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. Please consider making a special gift to the Washington Trust in honor of our accomplishments as we celebrate this year together! Continuous stewardship is needed to protect that irreplaceable legacy for future generations – we appreciate and look forward to your ongoing participation and support.

Here's to 40 more years of saving places that matter across Washington! Please sign up for our special weekly e-newsletter to recieve stories like this in your inbox all year long.

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