Landmarks are normally objects of long standing, places or things commemorating people or events of long ago. However, there is a brand-new one in Spokane – a specialty monument – that touches on the past and welcomes the future.
The new Welcome to Spokane monument is at the base of the Interstate 90/Division Street eastbound off-ramp at Fourth Avenue and Division Street. The project of the Associated Garden Clubs of Spokane, the monument and surrounding garden “show our pride in Spokane,” said Charlie Parsons of the organization.
“We want visitors to know they have arrived, that they are in the Lilac City,” he said.
The monument is a 15-foot-tall concrete sculpture set in a brick base made of reclaimed brick to honor the city’s history. The face depicts tall buildings of downtown Spokane, above which appears the welcome message. It is lighted at night.
The monument was designed and lighted by city personnel and sits on city land at the freeway exit used frequently by visitors from west of town. The garden clubs paid approximately $25,000 for the project, the latest among many they have done in the city – including funding a Lilac Festival scholarship, trees for the Davenport Art District, plantings for the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery and more – totaling more than $164,000 since 1986.
The garden clubs are especially pleased with the plantings they recently put north and south of the monument, particularly five lilacs which are anchors in the welcome garden. They are a hybrid lilac named “Spokane” that, according to Parsons, are about to bloom with lavender-colored flowers that fade to pink.
“They are robust plants, a hybrid of the common lilac, and could get to be 10 feet tall,” he said. There also is a subalpine fir tree on each side of the monument and a single-stem lilac tree which should produce a whitish flower and could grow to 25 feet. In front of the monument are dwarf boxwoods, blue fescue and the native kinnikinnick plant – all low-growing plants that will serve as a border.
The idea for a welcome monument began about 10 years ago when club member Marie Mann, also a Lilac Society member, attended an International Lilac Society meeting in another city and observed a welcome sign and surrounding plantings that impressed her. “We should do that here,” she said.
At first, they thought of two metal road signs that they hoped to put along I-90 on both sides of the freeway, but when that didn’t work out the idea of a monument developed. Finding a site was difficult, but they worked with representatives from the city to find appropriate land that would be visible to visitors.
“We are hoping the welcome monument and the lilacs will become the beginning of a welcome corridor to the river,” Mann said. “We really like how Coeur d’Alene has developed its entrance to that city and hope we can do something like that here.”
Club members also hope the lilacs will be blooming in time for the upcoming Lilac Festival. On May 10 the Associated Garden Clubs of Spokane will hold the 58th annual Lilac Luncheon at the Davenport Hotel, at which Parsons, 84, will again escort the Lilac Princesses into the event. “I will, of course, wear my lilac shirt,” said the retired horticulturist, who owned Coldwell-Garland Florists and taught horticulture at Spokane Community College. And the Lilac Parade, which brings many visitors to the city, will be May 15.
“We are a welcoming city with pride in our past and excitement for the future,” Parsons said. “We want visitors to our city to know that.”
And that’s what the new landmark is all about – set off by special green-thumb touches which the Associated Garden Clubs, founders of the first Lilac Parade in 1938, are especially good at.