Iconic White Elephant store becomes pile of rubble after Panda Express buys building

<p><p>Broken timbers, wires and twisted steel piled just behind what used to be the front door of the iconic White Elephant store on North Division Street marked the demolition of a building that for decades was a go-to spot for Christmas gifts.</p></p><p><p>A massive Cat excavator was perched Wednesday atop what had been a business for 74 years but closed last year as the Conley family of Spokane decided it was time to <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2020/jun/07/white-elephant-owners-ending-74-year-legacy-in-spo” target=”_blank”>shutter the store that had been a family legacy</a>.</p></p><p><p>“This was an icon for everybody,” said 65-year-old Rick Ellis, a driver for Rob’s Demolition.</p></p><p><p>“I used to come down here and get our kids and grandkids Christmas gifts.”</p></p><p><p>Until it recently sold, the building had housed a collection of toys and camping and fishing gear that was the brainchild of the <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/jul/25/john-conleys-knack-for-a-deal-turned-into-colorful” target=”_blank”>late John R. Conley Sr.</a>, who started selling army surplus items in 1946.</p></p><p><p>After closing, the Conley family sold the property last summer to Panda Express, which <a href=”https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2020/dec/20/the-dirt-panda-express-to-occupy-former-white-elep” target=”_blank”>plans on building a restaurant at the site</a>, said John R. Conley’s son, Rich Conley.</p></p><p><p>Conley, 70, drove by the old building at 1730 N. Division St., on Tuesday and again on Wednesday.</p></p><p><p>“There’s lots of mixed emotions,” Conley said. “That building had a tremendous run.”</p></p><p><p>Just feet from where countless local children got to ride a rocking elephant for a dime, the excavator used its hydraulic grapple arms to grab massive amounts of rubble that it loaded into Ellis’ waiting truck.</p></p><p><p>Ellis said the demolition team will take about two weeks to raze the building and remove the rubble.</p></p><p><p>“During the walk-through, we were like, ‘This is where they had all the toys. They had all the fishing and camping supplies against this wall,’ ” he said. “You could just about find anything here.”</p></p><p><p>Rich Conley said he spent decades working late hours so that other families could provide Christmas gifts to their children. This year, he’s taking it easy and traveling to watch his own grandchildren play basketball games.</p></p><p><p>“I’m sorry to see the old place go,” he said, “but I’m also glad to have the time now to make up for a lot of lost time.”</p></p><p><p>Earlier this week, onlookers came to watch as the crews began, Ellis said. One of them asked to have a brick set aside as a keepsake.</p></p><p><p>Rich Conley said he saw employees there on Tuesday who had worked at the store for decades.</p></p><p><p>“It served our family, our customers and our community well,” Conley said. “I’ve been getting lots of texts from family who drove by and saw things going on.</p></p><p><p>“We are looking forward to seeing the new landscape on Division Street after 75 years of that building there. It will be interesting.”</p></p>