Manito is more than just a neighborhood park. It is one of the most unique parks in the nation. While many cities are noted for a particular type of garden, be it Japanese, Rose, formal, etc., Manito Park has a bit of everything.
Within Spokane’s showcase park can be found the Gaiser Conservatory, a stately structure filled with tropical delights for year round enjoyment. The conservatory faces the Duncan Garden, which is a formal renaissance garden overflowing with annuals each year.
The Ferris perennial garden and Rose Garden, favorites of the public due to their ever changing beauty, can be found close by. Rose Hill is also home to a dahlia test garden and a hardy fuchsia garden.
Who can resist the heady perfume of the Lilac Garden in spring? And the serenity of the Japanese garden with its waterfall and pond can calm the nerves after a stressful day. But gardens are not the only attraction at Manito.
Mirror Pond (once called Mirror Lake) is a centerpiece of the park, loved by all. The upper park hosts a playground, splash pad, baseball diamond, and a large open grassy field for soccer, volleyball, and just plain running around.
Tennis courts are just across the street from the picnic shelter. Undulating hills of grass with shade from numerous trees provide the perfect setting for book reading and picnics. And if you don’t want to pack your own picnic, the Park Bench will satisfy the needs of any appetite.
It is true that there is something for everyone at Manito Park, and the amazing thing is…..there is no admission fee.
Manito Park is located on the south side of Spokane with boundaries of 17th and 25th Avenues on the north and south, and Grand Boulevard and Bernard Street on the east and west. The original name of the park was ‘Montrose Park,’ referring to the many wild roses found on the tall outcroppings of basalt (mounts).
The name was changed in 1903 to ‘Manito’ meaning ‘a supernatural force that pervades nature’ in the dialect of a local Native American tribe.
The park consists of 90 acres donated by the Spokane Washington Improvement Company, Spokane and Montrose Motor Company, The Washington Water Power Company, Hypotheek Bank, and E.P. Hogan. The city of Spokane dedicated Manito as a city park in 1904.
Prior to the formation of the City Park Board in 1907, Manito Park was a public recreation area under the control of the city. It was the terminus for a street car line during its early years of development. (Remains of the tracks can be seen on Manito Place off of Grand Blvd.)
In 1902 Charles Balzer, from the St. Louis, Missouri area, became superintendent of the park and his family lived in a house in the middle of the park between 19th and 20th Avenues. In Balzer’s time the present day ‘duck pond,’ formerly Mirror Lake, was large enough to accommodate canoes that could be rented on site.
A dance hall was located on the bank on the lake and ‘open air’ motion pictures were shown nearby from 1905 to 1907. The park also contained two concession stands selling popcorn, candy, soda pop, ice cream, and tobacco. The popcorn was popped and packaged downtown and brought up to the park.
So much merchandise was collected in anticipation of weekend business that the Balzer children were often kept busy Thursdays and Fridays stacking it in the concession stands and in their home.
Superintendent Balzer created the first playground in the park and since the City did not provide money for equipment, he procured used power poles which provided the framework for swings.
In 1905 he started acquiring animals for a zoo. At one time the zoo had as many as 165 animals and the menagerie included beavers, elk, grizzly bears, polar bears, buffalo, ostrich, emu, black swans, and coyotes.
Until 1932 the zoo was the park’s main attraction, but on August 4th of that year, with the depression looming and the city attempting to cut expenditures at every turn, it was decided that the zoo would close.
In 1907, largely due to the enthusiastic efforts of Mr. Aubrey White, the voters of Spokane authorized the creation of a board of park commissioners and an annual levy for parks. The Spokane Park Board was to be independent of city politics and had offices outside City Hall.
The first group of commissioners consisted of local businessmen who elected Aubrey White as the first president. In one of its first actions, the board enlisted the services of the landscape architecture firm of the famed Olmsted Brothers of Massachusetts.
After consulting with the board, John Olmsted was retained to prepare a preliminary recommendation for Spokane’s existing parks and to assist in the development of an overall park and boulevard system.
The Olmsted report was submitted to the Spokane Park Board in 1908, however, it was not released to the public until 1913 to prevent land speculation in lieu of its many recommendations to acquire additional properties for park land. There is a popular mistaken notion that Manito Park was an Olmsted Brothers’ design, but even the content of the Olmsted report describing the existing layout confirms they did not design Manito Park.
However, some of the Olmsted recommendations were implemented: park roads were widened, paved, and grades reduced, an open area was graded for a level playing field, and continuous grassy areas were planted. In the years following the report, Aubrey White and the Spokane Park Board made many additional improvements in the parks of Spokane.
Between 1910 and 1913, Manito Park added improved drives, greenhouses, flower gardens, playgrounds and play equipment, tennis courts, a ball field, a bowling green, and gymnasium apparatus.
Charles Balzer 1902-1909
John Duncan 1910-1942
Harold Abbot 1942-1959
Charles Thurman 1962-1973
Ernst Rosenthal 1974-1979
John Dodson 1979-1993
James Flott 1994-2000
Steve Gustafson 2000-2005
Steve Nittolo 2007- Present Day