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.”