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Then and Now: Falls City Building

November 19, 2018

Businessman W.G. Willis bought the southwest corner of Post Street and Riverside Avenue from pioneer land developers A.M. Cannon and J.J. Browne in 1886. He began building the three-story Falls City Building.

The foundation was barely finished when Willis died unexpectedly. His son-in-law, Daniel H. Dwight, took over, finished it and opened the building in 1887. As a brick building in an era when most were wood-framed, and due to its size and structure, the Falls City Building was often referred to as the city’s first skyscraper – despite the fact that there were two slightly taller buildings in town at the time of its construction.

The building had a 1,250-seat auditorium on the third floor. Mrs. Mary P. Dwight was a graduate of the Boston Conservatory and an avid arts patron. World renowned opera singer Adelina Patti sang there, and plays and galas were held. A horse was coaxed up the long stairway for a stage play of “Ben Hur.”

The building was swept away in the Great Fire of 1889. Dwight began rebuilding as soon as materials were available.

The new, two-story Falls City Building opened in 1890.

Through shrewd investing, Dwight would come to be one of the largest downtown landowners in the city, though the Falls City Building remained the most historic of his structures.

Dwight served on the Parks Board and the School Board, starting in the 1890s. He helped start the Chamber of Commerce in 1897.

He and wife Mary built a house at 1905 W. Pacific Ave. in Browne’s Addition in the early 1890s and the family lived there until Daniel Dwight’s death in 1950. Mary P. Dwight died in 1924.

The Dwights attended Westminster Congregational Church. After his wife’s death, the grieving widower donated an elaborate set of chimes in his wife’s name for Westminster’s new bell tower.

His obituary said he weathered recessions and depressions without any loss of property over 60 years.

Daughter Mary Dwight became a well-known artist and photographer. Son Dwight Jr. managed the family business until his death in 1957.

The elder Dwight, said to be handsome, tall and stately, ran his affairs from the same office in the building right up to his death in 1950 at age 88.

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