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 www.tornadocreekpublications.com.  Please click over to www.ManitoPark.Org or www.ManitoParkOrg.blogspot.com 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.