Natatorium Park, Spokane, WA

Chuck King - A Short History of Nat Park

Chuck King - A Short History
A Short History of Nat Park
Presented by Chuck King at the
Vogel Family Historical Monument Dedication
July 22, 2022
In the late 1880s Spokane was in a period of rapid growth. Investors in real estate began to buy up large pieces of property, and then would divide the land it into home sites. Prices of these home lots were much higher in scenic areas, or when enhanced by a neighborhood park. In some cases, a planned neighborhood that was far from the city, would also need to supply a convenient way for people to get to their new homes.

In early 1888 news of a cable car line, like those used in San Francisco began to surface. The City of Spokane itself, was then primarily located on the south side of the river, and land north of the river was still in the early stages of development. Soon it was announced that a new company called the Spokane Cable Railway would be building the new line. Most investors and management were also land holders of properties along the way, as well as the final destination. The cable car route would begin downtown on Monroe Street and cross the river on a new wooden bridge, where at Boone Avenue it would head west to the Spokane River. There a beautiful new park was to be built. From there another new bridge over the Spokane River was to be erected leading to a new housing development to be known as Twickenham.

The Twickenham addition was platted in 1889 by surveyors Byron Riblet and John Strack, who are also buried here at Fairmount, and were honored at a monument dedication last year. Although the new Twickenham addition was beautifully platted, sales of home lots failed, and the hope of it becoming a huge financial success never happened. The Spokane Cable Railway Company too experienced its share of difficulties, and its history was brief. However, the park built at Twickenham did become a popular destination. Baseball was becoming the national pastime and the new Twickenham Park included a baseball field and grand stands. Other kinds of entertainment were added, including food, concerts and dancing. Soon animal exhibits and even a hotel and casino were constructed. In 1893 a new attraction was added that would not only be a great addition to the park, but would ultimately lead to a name change for the park itself. The Twickenham Park Natatorium and Athletic Grounds opened in the summer of 1893, featuring a newly constructed swimming pool, the only heated bath house in the state at the time. Evan Morgan, Ernest Eggert and John K. Waite are the men responsible for that. Their partnership at the park was short-lived, and only

Evan Morgan remained in the area. A few years after his time at the park Mr. Morgan moved to Loon Lake and Morgan Park at the lakes north end is named after him.

By 1895 the Washington Water Power Company, who had been purchasing controlling interest in several of the street railways, had also taken over the old Spokane Cable Railway line. By then the cable cars had been replaced by electric trolleys cars. The power company took control of Twickenham Park as well, and that year the parks name was officially changed to Natatorium Park. It's interesting to note that some of the men involved in the Spokane Cable Railway and The Twickenham Addition were also involved in the Washington Water Power Company.

From 1895 to 1906 the power company ran the park. With the automobile industry still in its infancy the trolley cars were the way people got around, and what could be better than packing a picnic lunch and taking a trolley ride to the beautiful grounds of Natatorium Park. The power company was determined to keep prices low at the park. One can just imagine how much money the trolley lines were bringing in. Trolley cars full of people would flock to the park especially on the weekends and holidays, each person dropping their coins into the trolley fare box.

In 1907 the Washington Water Power Company leased the park to a man named Audley Ingersoll whose father was involved in the amusement park business in the east. His plan was to turn the park into a place similar to New York's Coney Island. Many new attractions were added during his two year run but by the end of 1908 Mr. Ingersoll was heavily in debt, and the power company became the beneficiary of his efforts.

Finding itself now in control of a real amusement park, Washington Water Power pushed ahead, adding even more attractions to the park. In 1909 Charles Looff presented to the park, a beautiful carrousel that had been built under contract with the former manager Audley Ingersoll. The power company wouldn't pay the asking price for the carrousel, but an agreement was reached. Louis Vogel, Mr. Looff's son in law was brought in to manage the concessions at the park and would be paid a percentage of proceeds from the rides. The park remained a huge attraction for Spokane residents, but times were changing for the trolley lines.

The automobile was here to stay and a change on how the park was funded was on the way. A person would now pay for tickets to enjoy the rides. Though the park was still extremely popular, by the late 1920s the power company was looking for a way to get out of the amusement park business. As it turns out Louis Vogel, who had been working at the park since 1909 was able to purchase the entire site in 1929. Later that year came the stock market crash, leading to the great depression of the 1930s. Prior to his time at Natatorium Park Mr. Vogel had been a banker, and his financial experience now helped him lead the park through the crisis. In fact, some new rides were installed and improvements were accomplished during this time. Even though money was scarce, people still looked to Natatorium Park as an affordable escape. By the late 1930s the park was back in full swing. The big band era was at its peak, and many of the most famous bands in the country were performing for the dancing crowds. With war looming in Europe, it wasn't long before the United States was pulled into the conflict. The 1940s brought in World War 2 and as a result the country was unified. After the failure of the proposed Twickenham addition back in the 1890s the property had become the site of Fort George Wright. Now with the advent of the war, the complex became a center of military activity, and Natatorium Park was there when the soldiers needed a break from the stress of what lied ahead. The park was flying high through the 1940s and into the 1950s

Louis Vogel died in 1952 and responsibility for the park passed on to his son Lloyd. Lloyd had plenty of experience at the job, as he had been managing the park for his father since the early 1940s The 1950s though brought new challenges to the park. Drive in theaters were opening around the area, Cars were more dependable, families were going on longer trips. More lake cabins, more boats, more everything! The opening of the Spokane Coliseum in late 1954 was also a factor. Now the big name acts who came to Spokane performed there instead of Natatorium Park. With less revenue new attractions couldn't be installed and the park struggled to stay afloat.

By the early 1960s the park was in financial trouble. The Spokane Parks Board considered purchasing the site, but due to a lack of funds it never happened. Lloyd was forced to sell the park in 1962. The new owners the El Katif Shrine took over the park and kept it open it from 1964 to 1967 but, in 1968 the park was dismantled to make way for the San Souci mobile home park.

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