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Old buildings eyed for demolition


The old blue-and-yellow building on Spokane Way that housed the Vlachos museum has been labeled "dangerous" and could be condemned. - Roger S. Lucas photos

The city of Grand Coulee may soon destroy an old museum on Spokane Way that once displayed the remnants of its owner's most radical invention - a car powered with a different kind of propulsion.

The colorful old Constantinos Vlachos building has been declared a "dangerous" building by city building inspector Gary Lampella, and the matter is slowly working its way through the council.

There are a lot of memories from the 1930s, '40s and '50s in regard to the old building.

It housed a collection of Vlachos' papers, blueprints of various inventions and historical documents. One memory of oldtimers is of Vlachos sitting in front of his museum, watching the cars go by, honking at them with a bicycle horn, and waving at the passing motorists.

Born in Greece in 1895, Vlachos died in 1987. His wife, Bertha, is buried at the Spring Canyon Cemetery.

Gone now are many of the historical papers and objects that were housed in the museum. It is now filled with feral cats, and what papers are there are scattered about.

It might become a stretch for the city to condemn the "dangerous" building. Old sentiments are slow to die, and there could be a local drive to save the building.

Actually, there are two buildings - the aforementioned, and a second small building behind it. No one seems to know what is in the second building, but it could be a historian's dream to get inside and see, with the thought of finding a way to preserve the items.

Perhaps Vlachos is best known for his Tri-Phibian automobile, which was powered by a "ThermoHydraulic" motor.

He demonstrated the vehicle in Washington D.C. in 1934, when the vehicle blew up and nearly killed the occupant. Vlachos was hospitalized for nearly nine months.

The frame of the automobile is still in the building here in Grand Coulee.

Vlachos is said to have held some 20 patents and was always at odds with the U.S. Patent Office.

Birdie Hensley, docent at the Coulee Pioneer Museum, has published a small booklet on Vlachos, which is available to read at the museum she has created in Electric City.

Another old building on the property is locked, and it's uncertain what is inside.

The city admits that it is a stretch to remove the building. There would have to be an official declaration by the city that the building is a danger to society, then a court issue to get permission to remove it. Grand Coulee isn't known for spending money on old buildings.

Hensley has had some contact with distant relatives of Vlachos.

Kenneth Larrick, a nephew of Constantinos and Bertha Vlachos, lives in Virginia. According to Hensley, he wants nothing to do with the property. His daughter, Karen Jagiello, has spoken to Hensley, and is an assistant professor at James Madison University School of Nursing.

Taxes on the property have been duly paid down through the ages by Thomas Geiger, a Spokane attorney, who a few years ago had an office in Grand Coulee.

Currently it seems that no one wants anything to do with the building and property.

(Next week a further look at the Vlachos building and property.)

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