In December of 1906, John Charles Olmsted and James Dawson visited Spokane at the request of Aubrey White, president of the city’s independent Spokane Board of Park Commissioners. Olmsted Brothers’ report, produced in 1908 and released in 1913, recommended components including large parks, local parks, parkways, boulevards, and playgrounds, as well as proposals for city planning and improvements to existing parks. Over the intervening years, White led the parks commission to acquire more land and implement many of the firm’s recommendations for park expansion. Much of the work was overseen by John Duncan, Spokane’s first superintendent of parks.
Taking advantage of open land, wooded areas, valleys, and vistas, the plan recommended Gorge Park (now High Bridge) to highlight the gorge and falls of the Spokane River; Upriver Park (now Felts) and Downriver Park to the northeast and northwest, and Latah Park (now Qualchan Hills) offered large areas outside the city center for active and passive enjoyment. Smaller parks and playgrounds, benefitting from varied topography, together with tree-lined streets and wide boulevards, were planned as neighborhood amenities. Olmsted Brothers’ report stressed the importance of open spaces for a healthy population and took care to identify geographically diverse locations, aiming for the equitable distribution of public park space. They carefully preserved shorelines, created direct pedestrian access to the river’s edge, and designed scenic drives along bluffs and through wooded areas.
By 1913, Corbin, Liberty, Adams (now Cannon Hill), and Manito Parks, among others, had been enhanced with new plantings, drives, and varied recreational facilities. Olmsted firm recommendations for the improvement of city services, circulation, transportation, and recreation systems have continued to influence Spokane’s growth. Select individual parks of the system have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including Corbin Park (as part of the Corbin Park Historic District) in 1992 and Manito Park in 2015.