Local Treasures with Pia: Clayton

A town named after clay and an Italian artist who called it home.

Clayton, Washington – Just a few miles north of Deer Park you will find the home of the famous Clayton Burger (still available at the Clayton Drive-In, 4535 Railroad Avenue) located in the heart of the small town of Clayton.

Named after the rich clay deposits in the ground, J. H. Spear spotted Clayton when he was looking for a location for a terra cotta factory, and in 1893 he opened Washington Brick and Lime on the north eastern side of town.

Many of the workers back then were Italian craftsmen, and the factory quickly became famous for its high-quality terracotta tile, rosettes and other architectural design elements used to decorate building facade. Some of the terra cotta sculptors made work to order at the factory during the day, while working on their own art pieces on the side.

One of those artists was Leno Prestini. Born in Italy in 1906, Prestini’s family of potters and terra cotta sculptors moved to Clayton in 1911. Prestini gained fame as an incredible craftsman and sculptor and you’ve no doubt seen his work on many buildings.

For instance, those stern-looking rams heads on the Historic Davenport Hotel were shaped by the hands of Prestini.

If you look closely at the front of the restored Clayton School on the corner of Swenson Road and Park Avenue, you will see an “extra” Davenport Hotel ram head centrally placed over the front entrance.

Prestini also painted fantasy images of trolls battling robots, centaurs with clowns’ heads and dramatic portraits of couples and women – many with an undercurrent of broken heartedness. You can learn more about the artist and see many of Prestini’s paintings in this KSPS produced Northwest Profile from 2009.

There is no doubt Prestini was loved locally, also for his “crazy” projects like the one time he built a diving helmet out of scrap metal and took it for a test dive in Loon Lake. The drama in his paintings may have reflected inner turmoil – people describe him as having intense mood swings – and he ended his life without much artistic recognition in 1963.

Today, there’s nothing left of Washington Brick and Lime except the foundations of the large factory, yet Presitini’s work is still here: right across the tracks from the factory site sits Moose Lodge 855 – and much of its ornately decorated façade was made by Prestini.

The lodge was built on the corner of Lincoln Street and Railroad Avenue in 1926 but it no longer functions as a lodge.

We love road trips here at Local Treasures with Pia – please let us know if you have a good destination, big or small, in the Inland Northwest and we will check it out.

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