Spokane park leaders let bygones be bygones this week and honored the family of a woman who gave $1.2 million to restore historic gardens on a bluff overlooking downtown.
The Spokane Park Board voted 7-0 to rename Pioneer Park after Edwidge L. Woldson, the mother of Myrtle Woldson, who agreed in 2005 to make a $3.2 million donation for the gardens over six years.
The gift allowed the park system to re-create the Moore-Turner Heritage Gardens. But the generosity became controversial in 2007 when Woldson informed the city that she would not complete payments because the city had not cut down a dozen trees in Pioneer Park. She said at the time that park officials had promised her that the trees would be removed to restore views of the city. Park officials pointed to the 2005 contract between her attorney and the park department, which included no language about tree removal.
The money she already had given was nearly enough to pay for construction of the gardens. The extra $2 million would have created an endowment to maintain the garden. The city’s written agreement with Woldson, which described her as an anonymous donor, said the park would be named after a member of her family. But because the full amount wasn’t received, city attorneys considered the agreement void.
Park leaders said this week, however, that the Woldson family deserved to be honored not only for the significant donation but also for her family’s commitment to the area.
“There’s a lot of intriguing history behind this renaming. It’s easy to get distracted by that,” said Park Board member Chris Wright. “The thing to remember is that this request stands on its own merits. It’s clear that this family has made an enormous contribution, and this is a worthy recognition of that.”
Parks and Recreation Director Leroy Eadie said this week that removal of the trees may be considered again, but only after the public has a chance to comment. He said the renaming was a separate process that comes with no strings attached.
Park officials said in 2007 that they had cut two of the 12 trees, but stopped after receiving complaints. City leaders – already dealing with a backlash for cutting down trees as part of the nearby Bernard Street paving project – said they would continue the removal only if the public could comment.
Shortly after the park deal fell through, Woldson said she was giving $3 million to the restoration of the Fox Theater, which was renamed for her father, Martin Woldson, a railroad contractor, real estate investor and brewery president.
His wife, Edwidge Woldson, died at the age of 79 in 1966. The Woldsons’ property is near Pioneer Park and has its own garden, which was redesigned by Edwidge, according to a 1963 article in the Spokane Chronicle.
Lynn Mandyke, director of the Corbin Art Center, said the Moore-Turner gardens would not have been restored without Woldson’s “generous gift.”
“She truly made the restoration possible,” Mandyke said. Mandyke, who was the project manager for the gardens’ restoration, said the annual maintenance for the gardens costs about $75,000. Most of that has been covered by the park budget.
Meanwhile, a group called the Friends of the Moore-Turner Heritage Gardens was formed to help pay for some of the gardens’ upkeep. The group has given around $15,000 a year for repairs and other expenses, Mandyke said.
Reached by phone on Thursday, Woldson, who is 100, called the Park Board’s decision to change the park’s name “a surprise” and referred questions to David Condon, who lives nearby and is a member of the Friends of the Moore-Turner Heritage Gardens board. The friends group asked the Park Board recently to consider the name change.
“The city has this tradition of naming its parks after its pioneers and people who have had a major impact,” Condon said at Thursday’s Park Board meeting. “This family deserves that.”