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 http://www.ManitoPark.org or http://www.blogspot.mantioparkorg.com 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 www.tornadocreekpublications.com.    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.