Myrtle Woldson, the daughter of a Spokane pioneer railroad builder, confirmed Wednesday that she is the previously anonymous donor who gave $3 million toward restoration of the Fox Theater, and that as a result, the theater is going to be named in honor of her father, Martin Woldson.
“He loved music,” she said in a telephone interview, adding that having his name on the Fox would be an appropriate tribute to him.
Miss Woldson, as she likes to be known, also gave more than $1.2 million to the current restoration of the Moore-Turner Heritage Garden in Pioneer Park not far from her West Sumner Avenue home.
Fox Theater officials confirmed Wednesday that they are currently working with Woldson on details of the theater name and had been waiting on those details before making a formal announcement.
“I think it’s a wonderful gift,” said Pete Moye, president of the Fox Theater organization, which is in charge of the $31 million project. “This is a hometown person putting their money into reviving this part of town.”
He said Woldson’s gift shows her dedication to Spokane, and “I know honoring her father is very important to her.”
Woldson’s donation dates back more than six years and came at a critical juncture for the Fox. The Spokane Club had sought to buy the theater and tear it down for a parking garage, but bowed out when the Spokane Symphony Orchestra entered the picture.
A “Save the Fox” campaign drew 1,100 individual contributions, including Woldson’s.
The Fox is going to be the symphony’s new home when it reopens in November.
Martin Woldson, who was born in Norway, came to Spokane around 1893, according to newspaper files. He worked as a railroad construction contractor for James J. Hill, the driving force behind the Great Northern and Spokane, Portland & Seattle railroads. Hill later acquired the Northern Pacific Railway.
The railroads literally put Spokane on the map in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Woldson said that Hill was a great admirer of her father and entrusted him with jobs such as construction of a 40-mile stretch of track from Davenport westward, miles of track in Montana and tunnels along the Columbia River.
Martin Woldson died as a millionaire in 1958 at age 94. He had invested widely in real estate and, for a time, was president of Golden Age Breweries in Spokane. His holdings also included utility stocks and municipal bonds.
Myrtle Woldson has managed her own business affairs for years while continuing to live in the home her father purchased in 1943. She owns one of the last blocks of undeveloped real estate on Seattle’s waterfront and recently gained coverage in the Seattle Times, which described her as a “96-year-old heiress.”
In Spokane, Woldson has been better known for her own business skill, and she described herself on Wednesday as the last living “daughter of a railroad builder.”
In 1987, she opened her English-style garden to the Associated Garden Clubs annual public tour.
Regarding the Moore-Turner Heritage Garden, Woldson said she withdrew an additional $2.25 million gift to the project after parks officials refused to honor an agreement to remove 10 evergreen trees blocking her view across Cliff Drive. The trees were in Pioneer Park just below Cliff Drive. The additional money was to go for a perpetual maintenance fund.
Woldson said her mother, Edwidge L. Woldson, who died in 1966, had loved gardens, which is why she gave the money for the heritage garden, now undergoing its final phase of reconstruction.
She said she was hoping to have her mother’s name commemorated at Pioneer Park, the site of the Moore-Turner garden, but no longer believes that will happen because of the dispute over the trees.
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