Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Our Final Chapter

This is the final chapter of our series on beautiful Manito Park according to the book “Manito Park: A Reflection Of Spokane’s Past”  by Tony and Suzanne Bamonte of Tornado Creek Publications, Inc.
Today is the concluding paragraph from this great book.  The book is now out of print, but a few used copies are still available on and we’re certain they are in Spokane’s libraries if you are interested.

Thank you all for reading.  The current series of articles has been about all the various venues in Manito Park and this last article will act as the conclusion to this series.  In a few weeks, we will restart the series, so if you missed some of the chapters, please click over to www.ManitoPark.Org or to catch up on the missing chapters.

Thank you all for reading and for your comments and “likes” left on our Facebook account.

The Staff at ManitoPark.Org

This is the final chapter of our series on beautiful Manito Park according to the book “Manito Park: A Reflection Of Spokane’s Past”  by Tony and Suzanne Bamonte of Tornado Creek Publications, Inc.


Today is the concluding paragraph from this great book.  The book is now out of print, but a few used copies are still available on and we’re certain they are in Spokane’s libraries if you are interested.

Thank you all for reading.  The current series of articles has been about all the various venues in Manito Park and this last article will act as the conclusion to this series.  In a few weeks, we will restart the series, so if you missed some of the chapters, please click over to www.ManitoPark.Org or to catch up on the missing chapters.

Thank you all for reading and for your comments and “likes” left on our Facebook account.

The Staff at ManitoPark.Org

 Manito Park has always been and remains Spokane’s favorite park.  It is the largest naturally wild, unspoiled tract of land within the city parks system.  Preserving the natural character of this open space has not always been easy.  Throughout its history, numerous proposals to establish commercial enterprises at Manito – including a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, booths selling souvenirs, and exhibits of all sorts – have been rejected.  The board’s position has reflected the desires of its founders, such as Francis Cook and Aubrey White, to preserve beautiful open spaces for outdoor recreation and to enjoy nature.  In recent years, a movement to create a master plan for Manito included adding huge parking lots and a multipurpose meeting center in an undeveloped natural area.  The city quickly experienced how deeply people felt about preserving their park’s pristine beauty; the plan was rejected.  A second plan, tailored to the public’s input, is now being followed.  The Parks Department faces an ongoing challenge of maintaining the beauty of the park while serving the changing needs and desires of a diversified public, all within budgetary constraints.  Supporters are fiercely protective of Manito; many individuals, garden clubs, service organizations and the Spokane Parks Foundation work to preserve and enhance its natural beauty.  Spokane is fortunate to have a park of this magnitude and magnificence in the heart of a residential district, and a public dedicated to its preservation.

The End.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Two more venues of Manito Park are explained

We are closing our series of articles about Manito Park and have been listing the various venues of the beautiful park according to the book “Manito Park: A Reflection Of Spokane’s Past”  by Tony and Suzanne Bamonte of Tornado Creek Publications, Inc.


Today, we visit the last ones; numbers 11 and 12:


11.   UPPER MANITO PLAYGROUND:  Grading for the playground and softball field at the south end of the park in 1912 was in response to the 1907 Olmsted report’s observation that the park did not have an adequate play field.  Tennis courts and a bowling green were also built in the area.  A wading pool was added in 1920.  Charles Balzer, the first park superintendent, built the first playground equipment in two different locations at Manito.  After the park board was formed, playground development became a priority.


12.   GREENHOUSE AND STAFF FACILITIES:  Built in 1912, the basalt rock building directly north of the greenhouses serves as offices for the park horticultural staff and The Friends of Manito.  The Friends of Manito was founded in 1990 by John Dodson, then-Horticultural Supervisor of Manito Park, in response to a park showing signs of deterioration.  The Parks Department budget was insufficient to maintain and improved the park.  Over the years, this nonprofit group has acted as a partner with the Parks Department, contributing substantial funding towards improvements, preservation and park promotion, as well as educational gardening activities and programs (The Olmsted Series).  Their fall plant sale contributes over $20,000 a year.  In 1998 The Friends of Manito received the “Organizational Citation of Merit Award” – an award given annually by the Washington Recreation and Park Association, Inc. – recognizing these contributions. 



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Today we explore 5 more venues at Manito Park

We are closing our series of articles about Manito Park and have been listing the various venues of the beautiful park according to the book “Manito Park: A Reflection Of Spokane’s Past”  by Tony and Suzanne Bamonte of Tornado Creek Publications, Inc.

 Today, we visit numbers 6 through 10:
4.       LILAC GARDEN:  The lilac garden was conceived in the fall of 1941 when the Spokane Garden Clubs presented 60 lilac bushes to the city.  The garden, situated slightly southwest of the duck pond contains many varieties of lilacs, Spokane’s official flower.  Buffalo roamed this area when the zoo was in existence.
5.       PICNIC SHELTER and PLAYGROUND:  In 1961 the Spokane Rotary Clubs donated a large picnic shelter near the 18th and Grand entrance.  It contained fire pits, charcoal grills and picnic tables.  In the early 1900s, a channel of water from the present pond extended through this area to Grand.  At that time, there were entrances to the park from Grand at 19th and 20th, and a baseball field north of 19th.  The popular sledding hill is east of the shelter, adjacent to Grand.  In 1998 an attractive and functional playground designed by Debbie Clem-Olsen, landscape architect for the parks, was constructed west of the shelter.
6.       DUCK POND:  The pond began as a larger body of water called Mirror Lake.  The spring-fed lake was always a popular site for year-around activities.  A basalt rock fireplace, built near the west end of the pond in 1955, is a memorial to Lt. Lawrence Rist, an Air Force officer killed in action during the Korean War. 
7.       PARK BENCH CAFÉ:  Built in 1923, the “peanut shack” sold snacks for park visitors and peanuts for the monkeys.  It is located at the intersections of Manito Place, Tekoa and Loop Drive, once the site of a natural pond.  A private vendor sells refreshments during summer months.
8.       LOOP DRIVE AND BRIDGE:  A scenic route through Manito Park is open during the summer months.  The arched stone bridge, built in the 1930s, reflects the architectural design of the early park buildings.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Stories of Rose Hill and Nishyinomiya Japanese Garden

We have been visiting all the various venues of Manito Park, and here are sections 4 & 5 from the book “Manito Park: A Reflection Of Spokane’s Past”, by Tony and Suzanne Bamonte of Tornado Creek Publications, Inc.

4.       ROSE HILL:   Situated on the hill West of the perennial garden, the formal beds contain about 1,500 rose bushes in over 150 varieties.  Old-fashioned roses border sections of the garden, reminiscent of the profusion of roses growing wild at the time Francis Cook named it Montrose Park (“mountains of roses”).  Manito Park is the site of many memorials, especially in the rose garden.  A pergola, composed of 14 Tuscan columns for climbing roses, honors the late professional photographer Erna Bert Nelson, a generous benefactor to Spokane parks.  The nearby sundial is a memorial to the two sons of Mr. and Mrs. R. Jackson Wortman.  Jacob J. Wortman died at age 15 after a lingering illness.  Ward K. Wortman, a fighter pilot in the Air Corps, was killed in action.  Numerous rose bushes have also been donated as memorials. 


John Duncan conceived the idea of the rose garden on Rose Hill and, before his retirement, planted some domestic roses along the hillside below.  However, the cooperative project between Spokane Parks and Recreation Department and the Spokane Rose Society did not materialize until Harold Abbott’s tenure as park superintendent.  In 1948 the Rose Society proposed a rose garden be established at Manito to serve as both a test garden and for memorial roses.  Two years later, they donated $500 to launch the project.  In 1998, for the eighth time, the showcase display earned Rose Hill the national All-American Rose Selections Award for Outstanding Maintenance.


5.       NISHINOMIYA JAPANESE GARDEN:  In 1961 Mayor Neal Fosseen and his wife, Helen, initiated a Sister City program between Spokane and Nishinomiya, Japan.  The concept of this Japanese garden emerged as a symbol of this relationship; Nishinomiya reciprocated by planting a lilac garden in Japan.  Following years of planning, fund raising, construction and landscaping, the garden was dedicated as part of Expo ’74.


This beautifully artistic garden, in the corner of Manito Park bounded by Bernard and 21st, is sustained by the dedicated efforts of numerous individuals.  The Japanese community’s active involvement is led by Ed Tsutakawa, who chose the site and was instrumental in its early development.  Nagao Sakurai, former chief landscape architect for the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, designed the garden.  Before its completion, Mr. Sakurai suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed.  With the critical assistance of Polly Mitchell Judd (then-president of Spokane Federation of Gardeners) and Ed Tsutakawa, Mr. Sakurai continued supervising, with painstaking precision, from his wheelchair, until his deteriorating health forced his return to Japan.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

We're Almost Done With Our Adventure

As we mentioned last time, our story, according to the book “Manito Park: A Reflection Of Spokane’s Past”  by Tony and Suzanne Bamonte of Tornado Creek Publications, Inc. is coming to a close.  Today’s article is almost the last and will begin the Bamonte’s account of the many different areas and features of our beloved Manito Park.

We will begin the whole series again here in a few weeks and post them to both as well as  Tune back in and catch up on some of the earlier chapters you may have missed. 

Here’s the beginning of our wrap-up:

A TOUR OF MANITO PARK TODAY – Parts 1 through 3:

1.       DUNCAN GARDENS:  The formal European Renaissance style gardens, directly south of the Gaiser Conservatory, were originally called the Sunken Gardens,  In February of 1941, they were officially renamed in honor of Park Superintendent John W. Duncan, who designed and began developing them in 1912.  During his tenure, the gardens contained many diversified plant species, including rose and perennial gardens.  A grapevine-covered arbor was located near the rose garden at the southern end (the gardens have since been extended farther south).  Over the years, the gardens have undergone a number of revisions.  In 1996, under the direction of Jim Flott, Horticultural Manager for Manito, and Debbie Clem-Olsen, landscape architect, the most recent renovation was completed.  At a cost of about $35,000, funded primarily through Friends of Manito and Associated Garden Clubs of Spokane, the ratio of floral gardens to lawn was increased.  A vibrant array of colorful annuals make Duncan Gardens a popular site for summer chamber music concerts and weddings, and provides a scenic backdrop for photographers.  The focal point of the garden is a large granite fountain, donated in 1956 in memory of Louis M. Davenport by his wife Verus and son Lewis M. Davenport.  Davenport was a longtime park supporter and park board member.

2.       GAISER CONSERVATORY:  Construction of the present greenhouses at Manito Park were completed in April of 1974, replacing those built on the same site in 1912.  The first greenhouses (moved from Liberty Park in 1904) were near the 20th Street entrance to the park.  In 1988 the central dome was enlarged and dedicated to the memory of Dr. David Gaiser , longtime park patron and former park board member appointed by Mayor Neal Fosseen.  This popular attraction, which contains tropical, subtropical and temperate plant specimens from around the world, is open to the public, free of charge, year around.

3.       JOEL E. FERRIS PERENNIAL GARDEN:  This garden, established by John Duncan around 1940, is located directly north of the office building.  It was named in honor of a former park board member and popular civic leader following his death in 1960.  With over 300 plant species – all identified by markers – it is an ever-changing array of colors and textures during the growing season.  It is an informal counterpart to the Duncan Garden’s formal style.  A memorial bird bath fountain, located at the southeast corner of the garden, was donated to the park by Mr. and Mrs.  Alfred Hengen in memory of their daughter, Helen Hengen, a young Spangle aviatrix who lost her life in 1945 on her final flight for her pilot’s license.  The bird bath is in the center of the Hummingbird and Butterfly Garden.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Where did the Duck Pond come from?

The lake at Manito Park, called Mirror Lake during the Montrose Park era, underwent the first of many alterations.  The overall effect of these alterations was a reduction in its size to what is now the duck pond.

In the early days of the park, the spring-fed lake extended to the edge of Grand Boulevard.  The main body of water was at the present site, with a canal extending to the east.  This canal would almost dry up in the late summer, leaving an unsightly, mosquito-infested swamp.  At the west end of the lake, the water would seep into the nearby lots.  In 1912, in order to contain the water, a concrete wall, founded in bedrock, was built along the north and west sides of the lake.  Water from nearby springs was also diverted to the lake to keep the water level up.  Because of its proximity to the town, the lake had always been a popular place for children to swim, fish or canoe in the summer, and ice skate in the winter.  The changes enhanced the lake for those recreational activities.  Eventually the channel was filled in, and in 1974 a concrete retaining wall and deck were built along the northeast end.  By this time, the lake had long since become a duck pond.

Many changes in the vegetation have taken place around the pond over the years, but as can be seen from early photographs, it has always been a place of beauty, a dazzling jewel in the heart of the Manito neighborhood.  Sadly, in November of 1996, a severe ice storm devastated thousands of Spokane’s trees.  The storm took its toll at Manito – about 70 of the park’s trees were lost and more were damaged.  Neighbors reacted when the spring clean-up included removing numerous trees along the water’s edge.  Not all the trees had sustained ice-storm damage; some were already failing and further stressed by the storm.  The Park Department made the difficult decision to remove them all at once.  The once-serene beauty, with the weeping willows hanging over the water, had been severely altered.  But, as the old trees were removed, over 90 young replacements were planted, which will eventually restore a picturesque setting.  The ubiquitous screeching and quacking from a growing sea gull and duck population made quiet contemplation at the pond a near impossibility, but the enjoyment of feeding them continues to attract people from dawn to dusk.  [Ed note:  Consult the Spokane Parks & Recreation Department before feeding any of the gulls or ducks in Manito Park.  Recent developments have made feeding them dangerous to the birds as well as to the surroundings.]

John Duncan initiated other changes at Manito Park during his tenure.  As previously stated, during this stage of the park’s development, he gradually incorporated some of the recommendations from the 1907 Olmsted Brothers’ report.  When Duncan retired in 1942, he was designated Superintendent Emeritus of the Park System, and Harold T. Abbott was hired to replace him.  The Park Board minutes credited Duncan with “creating one of the finest series of gardens in the country out of barren rocks, lakes and bogs.”    Following his death on January 21, 1948, at age 83, the minutes again reflected on Duncan’s contribution, as follows, “(he) always had an eye to the practical as well as the beautiful.”

The remaining articles will wrap up our reporting of the park’s founding, creation and changes throughout the years.   All of the information reported in this series of articles came from a book by Tony Bamonte and Suzanne Schaeffer Bamonte entitled, “Manito Park:  A Reflection of Spokane’s Past”.  The book is now out of print, but a few used copies are still available on and we’re certain they are in Spokane’s libraries if you are interested.

Thank you all for reading.  The next series of articles will be about all the various venues in Manito Park and will act as the conclusion to this series.  We will then restart the series, so if you missed some of the chapters, please click over to www.ManitoPark.Org or to catch up on the missing chapters.

Thank you all for reading and for your comments and “likes” left on our Facebook account.

The staff at

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What happened after E.C. Balzer left?

Last week, we read a report issued by the Park Improvement Board stating all the reasons that Mr. E.C. Balzer was not a fit Park Superintendent.  This week we find out what happened after the release of that report.

Following the presentation of this report, a motion was made and immediately passed by the board to accept the recommendations and notify Balzer of their findings.  Throughout the previous year, correspondence from the board to Balzer had been of a terse and somewhat demanding nature.  Four months after the improvement committee submitted their report, the board called for Balzer’s resignation.  He submitted it to them on December 23, 1909, as follows:  “Gentlemen:  I hereby tender my resignation to go into effect on the first of the year or as soon as possible thereafter as Superintendent. “  Although early news accounts relay a story of a congenial departure from his position, park board correspondence suggests otherwise.

During this same time frame, Aubrey White met the assistant park superintendent for the Boston parks system, John W. Duncan, at a park convention in Seattle, and they struck up a friendship.  On January 3, 1910, White received a telegram from John Duncan stating, “Will accept offer as per letter of the 24th.”  As prearranged by White, following Duncan’s acceptance of the offer to be superintendent of the Spokane park system, he was to report to work “not later than March 1st, 1910.”

John Duncan became one of Manito Park’s best known figures.  He served as Spokane’s park superintendent for 32 years, retiring in 1942 at the age of 77.  Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, he moved to Boston with his family when he was a boy.  He learned the nursery trade from his father.  Although White and the Park Board Commission gave the appearances of seeking someone with a technical education to replace Balzer, there is no record in the available archives indicating Duncan had ever received a formal education.

After taking over as superintendent, Duncan spent the first couple of years primarily doing maintenance and cultivating a nursery at Manito Park.   The nursery bordered the present Duncan Gardens to the East.  By 1912, it had 212,000 plants, which would be planted in the various city parks.  Over the years, the nursery contained assortments of flowering and ornamental trees, shrubs, and various experimental trees and plants.

During Duncan’s tenure as superintendent, he made a number of trips to the eastern states to gather ideas from established parks in larger cities.  His first was in 1912, a year in which a new wave of changes happened in the park.  Old greenhouses and superintendent’s house were torn down and a new greenhouses built; the upper level at the southern end of the park was graded to create a level ball field, tennis courts, bowling green, and playground (to which a wading pool was added in 1920); and, of greatest interest to Duncan, work began on the formal European-style gardens.  He transformed the sunken dirt pit into a masterpiece, which received national acclaim.  In 1941, the year before Duncan retired, the park board honored his years of fine service as superintendent by renaming the Sunken Gardens to the Duncan Gardens.  This garden has undergone numerous transformations over the years, the most recent being in 1996.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

More about the demise of E.C. Balzer, Park Superintendent

With the sudden passing of the zoo, the only tangible reminder of the Balzer era was the bandstand (torn down in 1946).  However, Charles Balzer had left a legacy – he secured Manito’s place in the hearts of the Spokane residents.  His contribution could be summarized by a sentence in a 1907 brochure on Manito, prepared by the Spokane-Washington Improvement Co. as part of their intensive marketing campaign.  It read:  “The district now occupied by the city’s largest park was but a few years ago a succession of barren ledges, and to the genius of the landscape gardener has fallen the task of bringing beauty from the rough.”  During Balzer’s tenure as park superintendent, his main focus was on Manito Park.  Much of what he did was at his own expense and beyond the expected duties.  Park records reveal his dedication to Manito; the early photographs attest to his accomplishments.  However, the park board wanted more.


In 1908 Aubrey White, president of the park board, addressed the board with the following letter:

I think we all realize that very excellent work has been done under trying conditions, and yet I think we can all see many mistakes in judgment have occurred and are occurring which will justify at this time certain necessary changes.

Mr. Balzer, our present Park Superintendent, was advanced to that position from City Florist, because he was the only local man available at the time, and his Commission lacked the means to look for a properly qualified man….

Mr. Balzer has good recommendations and certificates as a gardener, and his success with plants and flowers has been very satisfactory, therefore as City Florist having charge of the Greenhouse and flower gardens, his service would be valuable to the park department, but he is not an engineer and cannot take the necessary levels nor run his lines when required, neither can he work out his own plans to scale, as such work has been outside of his experience.

I can therefore see at this time the necessity of employing a man as superintendent of parks who is qualified by experience and technical education to do the planning and laying out of our new development work….

Following White’s advice, the board ordered the Park Improvement Committee to investigate Balzer’s work as superintendent and make a recommendation.  On August 6, 1909, the committee reported the following:

The Park Superintendent, Mr. E.C. Balzer, has failed to comply promptly with the orders of this Board and has shown a disposition to evade the spirit of his instructions.  We recommend the Secretary be instructed to write Mr. Balzer that the Board insist on prompt and complete compliance with its orders….

Mr. Balzer having undertaken park improvements on his own initiative without consulting your Improvement Committee, we advise him that park improvements outside of maintenance, are under the direction of the Improvement Committee, and orders for such improvements must issue from the Chairman of Improvements direct, through the Secretary of this Board.

In order to enforce discipline without delay, your Improvement Committee requests complete authority to discharge the Park Superintendent, with the wages necessary to obtain a man equal to the responsibility and dignity of the position – one who will have the personality requisite to assist the Board in promoting the work of impressing the urgent need of funds for park areas upon our community. 

Next week we will hear more about what happens after this report is released.  I’ll bet you can already guess….

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Manito Park Zoo Becomes a Blessing And a Curse....

During the zoo’s 28 year history, there were a few incidents of injuries caused by the caged animals.  The most serious sent a chill through the community.  On July 10, 1923, nine-year-old Elizabeth Harris was feeding bread to the polar bears.  One of the bears pulled her right arm into the enclosure and the other, smelling blood, attacked and severed it.  Throughout this entire trauma, Elizabeth was remarkably brave.  She insisted she was at fault and that no harm be done to the bears.  Her wishes were honored.  Elizabeth overcame any suggestion of a handicap and lived a normal life.

The zoo had been in existence for almost three years when the Olmstead Brothers made their recommendations to the park board in 1907.  Had this report been presented prior to the zoo’s inception, it is doubtful Manito Park would have ever had a zoo.  The following are excerpts from this report:

For a few years it may continue to be advisable to have the zoological show in Manito Park, but all arrangements in connection with it there should be made with the idea of eventually removing the show to a larger park… In parks, the zoological collection should always be regarded merely as an incidental attraction, and it should not be allowed to absorb an undue share of the park appropriation.  A complete zoological show is a very expensive affair, particularly in maintenance.

Contrary to the recommendations of this report, the zoo remained a focal point of the park through 1932.  Like the rest of the country, the Parks Department was suffering the effects of the Depression.  The annual cost to feed the animals had risen to $3,000, which the park budget was straining to cover.  In addition, there was a constant concern about the park’s potential liability, as well as the neighbors’ complaints about the stench and nightly screeching or howling from the zoo.  The zoo’s days were numbered, but the park board did not make the decision lightly; some members even argued to close the greenhouses instead of the zoo.  When the issue was finally put to a vote, the zoo lost by a 6-5 vote.

On October 13, 1932, a terse letter from the secretary of the park board was delivered to John Duncan, then park superintendent:  “Dear Sir, At the adjourned regular meeting of the Park Board held this date, the Park Superintendent was instructed to dispose of the animals now at the Manito Park Zoo, to the best advantage without cost to the city, prior to January 1, 1933.”  As 1933 dawned, the zoo fell quiet.  Many of the animals were sold or given to other zoos, and some were turned loose in the wild.  But some Spokane residents still remember the trauma of hearing gunshots ring out from the zoo, sealing the fate of those animals for which no homes had been found.  Many of the animals were stuffed and, for years, stored or displayed at the Cheney Cowles Museum.  At one point, Zero, the polar bear who tore Elizabeth Harris’ arm from her body, was among the collection.  She had met her demise when her mate jumped on her back, breaking her neck.

Next week, we will learn something about the aftermath of the zoo’s closing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Verbal Image of The Zoo At Manito Park

The park’s center of activity was at the present intersection of Tekoa, Loop Drive and Manito Place.   Standing in that intersection facing north, around 1910, in front and to the left would be a little fenced pond (one of three naturally occurring spring-fed ponds in the park).  In the pond was an island on which the “swan house” provided shelter for numerous species of waterfowl.  Beyond that, the bear cages nestled up against the rock formations behind the present Park Bench Café.  (In 1923, the duck pond was filled in to build the café.)  Looking directly left, the monkey cages were in the foreground, and in the distance (on what is now Rose Hill), the elk and deer barn.  Atop the hill directly behind our position in the intersection was the aviary – the Owl Castle.  The Brotherhood of Owls donated the first owl.  Straight ahead in the distance, the United States flag blows in the wind up on flag hill.  To the right, the hill above the pond was an array of beautiful gardens, with a floral sculpture of the Masonic Lodge emblem as its centerpiece.  On the next hill north, the bandstand was at a perfect location to broadcast the music over the activity below. 

The present Rose Hill west to the Japanese Garden was the elk and deer enclosure.  Parts of the rock wall enclosure still remain in this area.  The enclosure extended north to the point Loop Drive skirts the crest of the hill, encompassing another small pond.  Cages for the skunks, coyotes, bobcats and other smaller animals lined the area of the present rock garden bordering the rose garden.  Ostrich, emu and kangaroo lived in the area of the present Japanese Garden, and buffalo roamed the current lilac garden.

Be sure to come back next week for more interesting information about Spokane’s own zoo in Manito Park.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Remember The Sunken Gardens We Learned About?

Sections of Manito have always been left in a natural “undeveloped” state, which appeals to the adventurer in all young children.  During Balzer’s early years as superintendent, his young son, Norb and his friends found the present-day Duncan Gardens an exciting place to play their games.  The area was covered with fir and pine trees and the boys needed a good hideout.  They proceeded to dig a seven-foot deep cave, which they covered with boards.  One day Mr. Balzer followed his son to the hideout and, to the senior Balzer’s delight, discovered the boys had dug into rich, dark soil – perfect topsoil.  With much of Spokane’s soil being very poor and rocky, Balzer recognized its value and began using this soil for the Manito gardens.  Neighbors would also come to take rich earth home for their own gardens.  According to Norb Balzer, in an April 18, 1968 article in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, “Eventually he had hauled out 42,000 loads of loam to parks all over the city.”  As a result, the present level of Duncan Gardens is now much lower than it had originally been, given it its first name – the Sunken Gardens.

In 1905 Charles Balzer began acquiring animals for a fledgling zoo in the park.  The first residents were beaver and muskrats, located at the present Manito duck pond.  Within a short time, the zoo grew into as major attraction.  At times it contained as many as 165 various animals.  Among the animals at the zoo were deer, elk, deer, monkeys, buffalo, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, badgers, bob cats, skunks, goats, kangaroos, beavers, muskrats and numerous species of birds.  The zoo covered nearly a third of the park.

Next week we’ll discover more about this interesting zoo right in the heart of Manito Park.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Charles Balzer Continues To Improve Manito Park

Last week, we learned about the city building a house for the park’s superintendent right in the midst of the park itself, and the controversy surrounding that building.  This week, we will learn about more of the park’s attributes, concessions and attractions.

During Balzer’s early years as superintendent, rapid changes took place in Manito Park attracting visitors by the thousands.  People dressed in their Sunday attire, packed a picnic basket and gathered up the children to spend a day at the park.  Beautiful flower gardens and floral sculptures adorned the park, and a growing zoo captured the attention of the young and old alike.  B. J. Weeks and the Balzers each had a concession stand with the usual popcorn, ice cream and soda pop, candy, peanuts – and lots of cigars!  (After the park department took over the concessions in 1910, it spent an average of $50 a month, during the summer, on cigars that sold for a nickel each.)   Regular weekend band concerts and baseball games entertained the picnickers.  Money was tight, but Charles Balzer crafted swing sets and other playground equipment out of old power poles, which kept the children happy.  My 1913 men enjoyed lawn bowling on the new bowling green.  Tennis was so popular that in 1912 a second set of tennis courts were added to the park near the softball field (the first courts, at 17th and Grand, were built in 1908).  When the sun set, there were open-air motion pictures projected onto a thin sheeting (to be seen from either side) and dancing at the pavilion, situated along the southern shore of Mirror Lake.  The lake cooled many swimmers on hot days.  On the 4th of July, fireworks displays attracted even larger crowds.  In 1912 John Duncan reported to the park board, “A conservative estimate of the number of people there [on July 4th] would be from 15,000 to 20,000….”  Even on a quiet day, Manito Park was a popular destination to get away from it all and enjoy nature’s beauty. 

Join us again next week for another chapter in this historical glimpse of our beloved Manito Park.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Manito Park Becomes the Choice Picnic Ground in Spokane

The first newspaper reference to activity at Manito Park, subsequent to the 1903 announcement that land was to be donated, was in the “Spokesman Review” on December 23, 1903:  “Mayor Boyd says the grove will be cleaned up, grass sowed and the dancing platform put in shape to make it an ideal picnic ground.”  For years prior to its first appearance in the Polk Directory in 1900, Montrose Park had been a popular destination for recreational outings.  As referenced earlier, newspaper accounts took place the first Spokane County fair in this area, as well as it being the destination of Francis Cook’s first motorized trolley trip to the Manito plateau.  By all indications, Montrose Park was much smaller than the new Manito Park, and primarily encompassed the area of the present picnic grounds at the 18th street entrance and the duck pond.

Faced with the task of developing the large park, the city moved its greenhouses from Liberty Park to Manito in October of 1904.  They were situated just inside the main entrance of the park at 20th Avenue about 300 feet west of Grand Boulevard.  Charles Balzer would be concentrating his time at Manito.  Spokane Park Board minutes, covering the early years of Manito Park, reflect regular correspondence from Fred Grinnell – the real estate broker representing the park donors, who held the majority of property for sale around the park – reminding the park board of their obligations. 

By the time the park board was formed, Balzer was in charge of all the city parks.  His experience as city florist – the lack of other qualified candidates – made him the natural choice for park superintendent.   With the growing demands at Manito Park a superintendent’s house was built in the park near the greenhouses (in the vicinity of the Washington Memorial).  This house was a source of some controversy.  In a letter to Mayor Floyd L. Daggett on February 28, 1906, Will Graves, on behalf of Spokane-Washington Improvement Co., referred to “…an unsightly barn of a house now being built in Manito Park… for the keeper of the greenhouse.”  He suggested it be removed and “an artistic house built in its place.”  Apparently this letter was not heeded; when John Duncan was hired as the next superintendent in 1910. He addressed a letter to the park board in which he said, “In looking over the house for the Superintendent I find it entirely inadequate for such a purpose.”  He was given a monthly housing allowance of $35 and moved into a home at 2504 S. Manito Boulevard, where he and his wife, Fanny, lived for the remainder of their lives.  In 1912 the old superintendent’s house was torn down and grass planted.

Please join us again next week when we learn more about the growth and increasing popularity of beautiful Manito Park.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Spokane Appoints its First Parks Superintendent

We have been reading from the book, “Manito Park:  A Reflection of Spokane’s Past” (by Tony Bamonte and Suzanne Schaeffer Bamonte) for several months now and learning about the founding of our beautiful Manito Park.  We have also been introduced to some interesting characters who played instrumental roles in the founding of Spokane.  This week, we are learning about the first park superintendent for the young city of Spokane.

The first Spokane park superintendent was E. Charles Balzer, a German-born immigrant, who was employed as the “city florist” when the city acquired Manito Park.  There is no official record of when he became superintendent, but shortly after tendering his resignation on December 23, 1909, he stated in a follow-up letter he had “been with the parks 9 years.”   Because park records were not kept until the park board was formed in 1907, information regarding the operation of the early park system is sketchy.  Much of Balzer’s correspondence from 1907 to 1909 can be found at the Eastern Regional Archives.  Most of it was written on official letterhead stationery inscribed with: “E.C. BALZER, Superintendent of City Parks, Residence:  Manito Park, Phone Main 4817.  This same letterhead also lists the city parks:   Manito, 93 acres; Liberty, 23 acres; Corbin, 13 ½ acres; Coeur d’Alene, 10 acres; Audubon, 33 acres; and Stadacona, 1 ½ acres.

Next week, we will read about further development in Manito Park, and how then Mayor Boyd announced amenities of the park.  Tune back in at or for the next chapter.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Let's Meet Aubrey White This Week...

Last week, we were introduced to Aubrey White, who became known as the “Father of Spokane’s Park System”.  This week we will learn more about this interesting character.  The information posted here is quoted from the book, “Manito Park:  A Reflection of Spokane’s Past”.  You can learn more about this book at    Our story now continues:

In addition to his tireless park promotion campaign, Aubrey White was also active in numerous business ventures.  He was in partnership with Jay P. Graves in the Old Ironside and Grandby mining properties.  He was also involved in Graves’ railway lines (Spokane Traction Company, Coeur d’Alene Electric Railway, and Spokane & Inland Railway Company) and participated in the reorganization of the three companies into the Inland Empire Railway Company, of which Graves was the president and White vice-president.  White, Graves and several other investors (the Spokane-Washington Improvement Co.) , owned large tracts of land, including some land donated for Manito Park.  Although White had numerous conflicts of interest, his connections and influence were driving forces behind Spokane’s development.  White’s memory has been honored by the naming of Aubrey L. White Parkway in Riverside State Park, and the preservation of an area he loved along the Little Spokane River as a park.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Property Values Continue to Rise Around the Park

At the time Manito Park was donated to the city, the parks were governed by politics and park donors.  A special charter in 1891 had placed Spokane’s public parks under a joint supervision of the mayor, the city engineer and the city council president, subject to the authority of the city council.  In 1955, the Eastern Washington State Historical Society taped an interview of Laurence R. Hamblen and Joel E. Ferris, two civic-minded citizens with long-term service to the park commission, discussing the Spokane park system history, Mr. Hamblen, then-president of the Spokane Park Board and board member since 1912, explained Spokane’s early governing body as follows, “At that time, Spokane was governed by a council of ten members, two from each ward in the city.  The city, of course, was divided into five wards.  This meant that the full system was largely political because each ward wanted to acquire for its constituents more than the other wards.  The result was a political issue all of the time.”

As previously noted, many Spokane parks were donated by owners of nearby property who clearly understood the potential  benefit of having the city improve the park land.  A front page article in August 4, 1907 Spokesman Review stated, “Park Improvements Add Fifteen Times Their Cost to Adjacent Property -  Property adjacent to a developed boulevard is 100 percent more valuable than it would have been in the same district without the park or boulevard improvements having been made.  This is the unanimous opinion of real estate men, who are in one accord in boosting for a better park and boulevard system for Spokane.” 

In an attempt to remove the parks from the political arena and protect against exploitation by park donors, a 1907 charter amendment created a separate nonpartisan park board commission of ten unpaid members, with the mayor serving as an ex officio member.  Another amendment in 1910 eliminated the mayor’s position and provided for a city council representative to act as a liaison between the city and the park board.

Correspondence and park board minutes filed in the Eastern Regional State Archives housed at Eastern Washington University and the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department archives provide insight into the formation of the Spokane Park Department.  The founding of the park board was largely through the efforts and assistance of Aubrey Lee White and the Spokane Chamber of Commerce, of which White was director.  Although Spokane was surrounded by open country and had little need to preserve land for parks, with the city’s rapid growth and expansion, White had the foresight to push for preservation of open space while it was still available and affordable.   He organized and served as President of the City Beautiful Club, whose purpose was to promote the establishment of a city park and playground system that would put or recreation area within walking distance of every neighborhood.  When the initial park board was formed, it was comprised of businessmen, who were also friends, with common interests.  Aubrey White was chosen to be the first president of the board, serving from 1907 to 1922.  His determination  to secure a visible park system for Spokane took tangible form soon after the park board was formed.  Grading, seeding and planting of Manito Boulevard began, and within three years, a $1,000,000 park bond was passed to expand and improve the park system.  Because park funds were limited, White persuaded private citizens to plant many of the leafy deciduous trees that beautify Spokane’s streets today.  White’s foresight and tireless campaign to secure public park lands earned him the reputation as “Father of Spokane’s Park System.”


Next week, we will learn more about this interesting character Aubrey White and how his vision and foresight helped shape Spokane’s landscape.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Famous Landscape Design Firm is Consulted on the Design…

In our continuing study of Spokane’s early days and the birth of Manito Park, last week we read some old newspaper articles about the sales of residence building sites being advertised around the new “Montrose” (Manito) Park.  Today, we see a few more details about the design and layout of the beautiful park itself.  The source was the newspaper of the day, The Spokane Falls Review.  Read along and get caught up in this interesting story.

All of the information reported here comes from a book by Tony Bamonte and Suzanne Schaeffer Bamonte entitled, “Manito Park:  A Reflection of Spokane’s Past”.  You can learn more about this book at  Please click over to www.ManitoPark.Org or to catch up on the latest chapter.

The following is an excerpt from an article appearing in the same paper [Spokane Falls Review] describing the coming of the Spokane & Montrose Railroad to Cook’s development and the beauty of the area:

Our citizens will rejoice when they can be carried quickly and cheaply to the shady groves and sparkling fountains of Montrose Park.  No one will be credited with having seen Spokane hereafter unless he has ridden over its heights on the Spokane & Montrose railroad… This will be the route for all local picnics and family excursions.  The elevated property south of the business portion of the city will now come to the front as the healthiest and most fashionable residence section.

Another description of the Montrose area was in a report to the City of Spokane by the Olmsted Brothers, a nationally renowned landscape architectural firm from Brookline, Massachusetts, which designed parks and private gardens in many major cities.  The father, who had founded the firm, was one of the designers of Central Park in New York City.  On July 10, 1907, at a cost of $1,000 plus expenses, the park board hired the Olmstead firm to prepare a preliminary recommendation for Spokane’s existing parks and to assist in the development of an overall park and boulevard system.  Following an inspection of Manito Park, they stated:

“The city is fortunate in possessing already a local park so large, so well situated, and accessible as this is… The picturesque, weather-beaten ledges, especially interesting to city people used to tidy, clipped lawns and grass plots, appear to be in process of being covered over with a thin layer of earth followed by grass… There is much rough, ledgy ground in this park.  Doubtless that had something to do with its selection for a park.  The land, that is to say, looked discouraging for low-priced suburban lots.  In some degree it is discouraging and costly to fit it for use as a public park, yet it is worth more for a park than fifty foot lots… The prominent ledges are decidedly valuable as picturesque landscape features.  They should be carefully preserved and taken advantage of in designing all kinds of improvements.”

The Olmstead report detailed their impression of the infant park in 1907.  The nearly two-page narrative on Manito recommended future improvements.  A third of the report was devoted to the zoo, primarily recommended for its removal.  (It was removed during the Depression, but purely for economic reasons.)  Manito Park did not develop from a master plan, but has been a constantly evolving, changing environment, shaped primarily by the inspiration or vision of various park superintendents or directors.  There is a popular mistaken notion, largely perpetuated by a park department brochure published some years ago, that Manito Park was an Olmsted Brothers’ design.  Although the content of the Olmsted report confirms an existing layout, some of their recommendations were eventually followed: park roads were widened, paved and grades reduced; an open area was graded for a level playing field; and continuous grassy areas were planted.  Few specific landscape suggestions were offered, except to add another 31 acres to remove irregular boundaries, which they felt were not conducive to pleasing park design.  That suggestion never materialized.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Montrose Park is sold lot by lot – here are some of the ads….

Montrose Park is sold lot by lot – here are some of the ads….

At the time of Francis Cook’s acquisition in 1884 of what is now called Manito Park, a natural beauty permeated that entire area.  The region in its early days of Spokane’s settlement has been described in many ways, some of which were not flattering, referring to it as “undeveloped tangle” or a “wooded tangle of underbrush and basaltic rockpiles as big as houses.”  However, the beauty of nature was clearly evident to Cook as he initiated the beginnings of the park and advertised the first and most complete description of it in the Spokane Falls Review on April 21, 1888.


An elevated plateau adjoining the city; affording the finest residence sites.  It has broad avenues, shade trees, abundance of water and is traversed by the motor line.

It commands fine views and lies within five minutes ride of the heart of the city.


The property in this suburban park is offered to purchasers at low figures and on easy terms; Apply to NORTHWESTERN LAND COMPANY,

Spokane National Bank Building, for particulars.


Among the many new additions adjoining the City of Spokane Falls, none have so fully met with all the requirements of a first-class residence site as Montrose Park; which will be placed on the market on


It lies south of the city, and comprises a portion of the beautiful plateau overlooking the Valley of the Spokane.  This plateau as it is now appears presents to the appreciative eye a SYLVIAN [sic] PARADISE

The open woody stretches of gently undulating ground, afford elegant residence sites, and will be occupied ere long with many bright and happy homes.  Besides the natural attractions that offer there are wide avenues of one hundred and twenty feet.  This will give twenty feet for promenades on each side with an eighty foot driveway.  Plenty of water can be had upon this upper level at from twenty to forty feet in depth.  In some portions of this addition fine springs abound.  To further and to the desirability of Montrose Park, there will be three fine parks laid out with fine drives and walks and some will contain miniature lakes and fountains.  Whenever one finds wild roses the soil where they grow is sure to be rich and strong.  Scattered about on the gentle slopes and the pretty open plazas wild roses bloom in great profusion – hence the name –


The new addition comprises six hundred acres and lies only twelve blocks from Riverside avenue.  The new motor line traverses the new addition on three broad avenues, and thus the remotest portions of Montrose will be within five minutes ride of the heart of the city.  That which also adds to the desirability of Montrose Park for residence sites is the healthfulness of location.  The mean elevation above the business portion of the city is 350 feet.  This places it above the fog line and where one gets benefit of the southern breezes and the sun.  At many points it commands fine views.  The streets are easy to construct and will be comparatively inexpensive.  Purchasers will receive a satisfaction guarantee for the completion of the motor line through the property, and which guarantee will form a part of the Contract of Purchase.  Call and see plat and get particulars.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Spokane Becomes A Lucrative Market For Architects

After Manito Park was donated to the city, the surrounding area developed rapidly, although the demand for new home construction was beginning to concentrate in a moderately-priced range.  From Spokane’s inception until about 1915, the population growth was steady, reaching over 139,000 according to the United States census taken that year.  Spokane was a lucrative market for architects.  By 1907 eighteen architectural firms were listed in the Spokane directory, many employing numerous architects.  A lot of homes built in the Manito area came from these architects’ designs.  About this time, a new concept in house plans also emerged – house plan catalogs.  Catalog plans were largely in response to the popularity of the Craftsman Bungalow, which had received high-profile coverage in various architectural and home design magazines.  About 1908 the Ballard Plannery Company was formed.  This architectural firm issued a 106-page catalog of house blueprints for minimal costs.  A large number of lumber companies operating in Spokane also sold house plans.  The catalog plans frequently offered pre-cut packages of lumber and assembly instructions.

When America entered World War I, residential construction slowed.  According to the 1915 and 1920 census figures in the Polk directories, Spokane experienced a temporary downturn in population.  Population figures from various sources often conflict.  This was partially due to the expansion occurring beyond Spokane’s city limits, which was not included in the census counts.  In earlier years, the city limits were more narrowly defined and have since changed.  Many of the most rapidly growing areas, such as Hillyard, were not included until later.  By 1923, the year Cutter left, the housing market was rebounding and Spokane ranked among the top twenty Pacific Coast cities in what was termed “The race for leadership in building permits.”  The statistic was released by the Federal Reserve Bank during March of 1924, and appeared in the Spokane Press the 18th of that month.  During this period, the Craftsman Bungalow became the most popular style homes in the Manito area.

The design influence of Preusse, Cutter and their associates left a lasting mark on Spokane.  Many of the homes built in the Manito neighborhood reflect the European influence, a trademark of Spokane’s early architects, and are admired by residents today.