Document 58: Spokane Parks

“Report, Olmsted Brothers, to A. L. White, Board of Park Commissioners, Spokane,” in Board of Park Commissioners, Spokane – Annual Report, 1891-1913 (Spokane: Board of Park Commissioners, 1914), 71-75, 88-97.

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Mr. A. L. White, President,
Board of Park Commissioners, Spokane, Wash.

Dear Sir:
At various times we have examined the City of Spokane with reference to its needs and opportunities in the matter of parks, and we now submit our report on this subject.


We have noticed that the need of parks is not greatly felt by the great mass of citizens in a city of this size, or at any rate it does not manifest itself so publicly as to attract attention. It should not be assumed, however, that the people do not need parks because they fail to clamor for them. The fact is that the great mass of people are so engrossed in their daily work and domestic and social life that they do not feel the need of inquiring into those additions to municipal activities that a study of other municipalities would lead one to appreciate and to advocate in this city. In sanitary matters some progress has been made, yet, if we are to judge by what has done in more advanced cities, additional provisions for the health of the mass of the citizens are needed. It is recognized that public baths and public gymnasia conduce greatly to the health, morality and well being of the people. They are mainly sanitary, but whatever increases the general health of the public also tends to improve the morality of the public.

It is well understood, by those who have studied the subject, that public parks, while ostensibly undertaken for the pleasure which their beauty affords the people, are also very important aids to the improvement and preservation of the health of the people. City life, with its confinement during long hours to stores, offices, factories and the like, has a decidedly depressing effect on the general health and stamina of the bread winners. Even the home-keeping members of families living in the city are apt to be similarly depressed. This comes about mainly form the lack of invigorating exercise in the fresh air. Confinement and sedentary life tend to weaken the system to a point where it yields to diseases such as consumption, heart failure, apoplexy and diseases of the digestive apparatus and secretionary glands. What is needed as a counteractive is not stimulants, which sooner or later still further weaken the system, but exercise out-of-doors.

Parks constitute one of the best means of drawing people out-of-doors. Mothers resort to parks with their little babies and children under the school age, because they can do so with a feeling of safety and pleasure. School children are attracted to parks mainly for active play. Young men and young women go to parks for tennis, baseball, sociable walking together, or even for solitary enjoyment of the beauties of nature. It rarely is a sense of duty that leads young people to take exercise and fresh air in the parks, but they get the exercise and fresh air incidentally to enjoying themselves. Older men and women find an inducement to walk in the parks for golf or tennis or to watch others play, or to see other visitors and their clothes and horses, automobiles, and the like, or to study birds, flowers, or other attractive details of nature, or for more refined and artistic satisfaction to be derived from the contemplation of landscape and of the sky and clouds.

Then, again, city life involves a continual strain of the nerves, through the need of avoiding dangers of the factory and street and owing to the multitudinous harsh noises and the vivid and eye-tiring sights and through having to give attention to so many things and to talk to so many people. Even to the well, this is tiring to the nerves, but to those who are delicate, it often becomes a torture. After all, it is to those whose nerves are tired—and they are a large proportion of the dwellers in a city—that the parks are most immediately beneficial. . . .


The City of Spokane has remarkable opportunities for preserving big and strikingly picturesque landscape features for its parks. Four localities especially commend themselves to our judgment as being most desirable sites for large parks.

Gorge Park: Nothing is so firmly impressed on the mind of the visitor to Spokane, as regards to appearance, as the great gorge into which the river falls near the center of the city. It is a tremendous feature of the landscape and one which is rarer in a large city than river, lake, bay or mountain. Any city should prize and preserve its great landscape features, inasmuch as they give it individuality. Chicago has spent millions for its Lake Shore parks. New York has spent more millions on its great Riverside Park and Drive extending for many miles along the Hudson River. Many instances could be enumerated showing that the wisdom of preserving such landscape features has been recognized and acted upon by making them enjoyably accessible by laying out parks and parkways along them.

The river gorge within the built-up part of Spokane has already been partially “improved,” as one might ironically say, but it is questionable whether any considerable portion of the community is proud of most of those improvements. How much better if would have been if the gorge had been reserved from commercial development, except what was necessary to utilize the power of the falls, and if the cost of streets, sewers and houses down in the gorge had been put into developing other parts of the city better adapted for residence and manufacturing. Spokane should certainly preserve what beauty and grandeur remains of its great river gorge. . . .

Upriver Park: This park would extend upriver from the footbridge below the waterworks dam. The footbridge is about four and a third miles in a bee line from the centre of the city.

On the south side of the river there is a large area of comparatively level land above the steep bank of the river. Enough of this should be included in the park to afford a good example of meadow park scenery, to provide for several ballfields and for outdoor gymnasia, lawns, gardens and other features, as well as for drives, walks, groves, and border plantations. . . .

Downriver Park: The gorge of the river below Natatorium Park affords a remarkable landscape feature of much greater natural beauty than that of the gorge above Natatorium Park and the Great Northern Railroad bridge.

From the top of the bluff along the right bank of the river there is an extended and very beautiful distant view.

It is hard to believe that the land on the steep bluff along the right bank of the river from Natatorium Park to the west line of Montesano subdivision, has any value to adjoining private landowners other tan as a means of keeping the view open in front of houses which maybe built on the bluff. For this purpose, it would be far better for the landowners to deed the steep slopes to the Park Commission, without price, than to take their chances on the bluff being left in private ownership and being disfigured by carelessness, ignorance or unwise commercial investments.

This stretch of the river has the very great advantage that more than three miles of the left bank is already preserved by being in Fort Wright U. S. Military Reservation.

It would be a most unwise failure to take advantage of extraordinary favorable conditions if the Park Commission should not seize this opportunity of preserving this large section of the river gorge free from further disfigurement, since it can be done by acquiring free, or at merely nominal cost, a strip of commercially useless land along one side only of the river.

While the preservation of the gorge is exceedingly desirable, it would not in itself make a wholly satisfactory popular park. It will be necessary to include some of the nearly level land on top of the bluff on the north side for field sports.

The river is fine as it is, although it dwindles considerably in summer; still the water would be more imposing in the landscape, as well as more useful for boating, if it were raised by a dam as high as might be without interfering with the water power at the centre of the city.

Latah Park: This park lies south of the city on the northeast side of Latah Creek valley. The north end of this park, which is merely bluff, begins at 29th Avenue, two miles from the centre of the city: but the broad, level portion begins at Kings' Addition, three miles from the centre of the city.

It includes the wooded bluffs and a sufficient area of nearly level land above the bluffs for baseball and other field sports. Much of the plateau portion is wooded and suitable for rambling grounds and picnicking.

The principal drive and walk would follow the crest of the bluff. Another drive would wind through woods and border plantation surrounding the open meadow. Another drive would slant down the hillside and connect with country roads in the valley.

The bluff drive will command beautiful and extensive views from south to northwest across the valley of Latah Creek and over an extensive reach of picturesque country beyond. It will be open to the refreshing prevailing southwest breezes of summer, and will therefore be more free from smoke and dust than the smaller parks of the city.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest