Then and Now: The Lang Building

April 15, 2019

The Lang Building was erected on Washington Street in 1891. Most of the downtown buildings in that era were built for ground floor retail space, with a hotel or residence rooms above. But the Lang was built for large meeting rooms, so windows on the sides of the building are taller, and the front windows are stylishly arched to allow light inside.

The first listing of the Lang building called it the Grand Army Hall. The Grand Army of the Republic was the fraternal organization for those who served in the Union Army in the Civil War. The first of three G.A.R. posts in Spokane was founded in 1883. The national organization peaked at 490,000 total members in 1890. Eventually there would be posts in every state, even in the South.

In Spokane, the first unit to give up its charter as members died off was the Nathan P. Gregg Post 27 in Hillyard, in 1925. The John Sedgwick Post 8 in downtown Spokane went inactive with the death of Post Commander Charles W. Corwin at age 99 in 1943. The Gen. I.L. Reno Post followed a couple years later.

Though the G.A.R. officially dissolved in 1956 with the death of the final Civil War veteran, its impact on politics and culture was profound. The G.A.R. led the first commemorations of Memorial Day in 1868.

And with the pride in their victory over the South came a strong sentiment for Republican politics. The G.A.R. membership was a political force that contributed to the election of U.S. presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley, all Republicans. The sole Democrat of the postwar era was Grover Cleveland.

The organizational structure of departments and local chapters called “posts” was later used by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, formed for the veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippines insurrection, and the American Legion.

The G.A.R. group outgrew the meeting rooms at the Lang Building and moved elsewhere at some point. The building has housed many different retail businesses and restaurants over the years. It was extensively remodeled in 1985.