We have been learning about the early days of Manito Park, and this week hear more about the demise of Spokane’s first Park Superintendent E.C. Balzer.
If you think politics might be a little dirty nowadays, this account will show you that nothing has really changed in over 100 years….
With the sudden passing of the zoo, the only tangible reminder of the Balzer era was the bandstand (torn down in 1946). However, Charles Balzer had left a legacy – he secured Manito’s place in the hearts of the Spokane residents. His contribution could be summarized by a sentence in a 1907 brochure on Manito, prepared by the Spokane-Washington Improvement Co. as part of their intensive marketing campaign. It read: “The district now occupied by the city’s largest park was but a few years ago a succession of barren ledges, and to the genius of the landscape gardener has fallen the task of bringing beauty from the rough.” During Balzer’s tenure as park superintendent, his main focus was on Manito Park. Much of what he did was at his own expense and beyond the expected duties. Park records reveal his dedication to Manito; the early photographs attest to his accomplishments. However, the park board wanted more.
In 1908 Aubrey White, president of the park board, addressed the board with the following letter:
"I think we all realize that very excellent work has been done under trying conditions, and yet I think we can all see many mistakes in judgment have occurred and are occurring which will justify at this time certain necessary changes."
"Mr. Balzer, our present Park Superintendent, was advanced to that position from City Florist, because he was the only local man available at the time, and his Commission lacked the means to look for a properly qualified man…."
"Mr. Balzer has good recommendations and certificates as a gardener, and his success with plants and flowers has been very satisfactory, therefore as City Florist having charge of the Greenhouse and flower gardens, his service would be valuable to the park department, but he is not an engineer and cannot take the necessary levels nor run his lines when required, neither can he work out his own plans to scale, as such work has been outside of his experience."
"I can therefore see at this time the necessity of employing a man as superintendent of parks who is qualified by experience and technical education to do the planning and laying out of our new development work…."
Following White’s advice, the board ordered the Park Improvement Committee to investigate Balzer’s work as superintendent and make a recommendation. On August 6, 1909, the committee reported the following:
"The Park Superintendent, Mr. E.C. Balzer, has failed to comply promptly with the orders of this Board and has shown a disposition to evade the spirit of his instructions. We recommend the Secretary be instructed to write Mr. Balzer that the Board insist on prompt and complete compliance with its orders…."
"Mr. Balzer having undertaken park improvements on his own initiative without consulting your Improvement Committee, we advise him that park improvements outside of maintenance, are under the direction of the Improvement Committee, and orders for such improvements must issue from the Chairman of Improvements direct, through the Secretary of this Board."
"In order to enforce discipline without delay, your Improvement Committee requests complete authority to discharge the Park Superintendent, with the wages necessary to obtain a man equal to the responsibility and dignity of the position – one who will have the personality requisite to assist the Board in promoting the work of impressing the urgent need of funds for park areas upon our community."
Next week we will hear more about what happens after this report is released. I’ll bet you can already guess….
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