June 17, 2012 in City

Hundreds mark Gaiser Conservatory’s 1912 roots

By The Spokesman-Review
Tyler Tjomsland photo

Otis Nix, 4, points excitedly as he and his mother, Melinda Nix, enter the Gaiser Conservatory on Saturday at Manito Park in Spokane. “He loves to come to the conservatory, especially the greenhouse,” Nix said of her son. The conservatory is celebrating its centennial this year.
(Full-size photo)

Hundreds of people showed up Saturday afternoon to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of the South Hill’s most precious troves of plants: the Gaiser Conservatory in Manito Park.

Beneath the greenhouse dome, varieties of orchids, cacti, succulents and tropical plants grow side-by-side around a fish pond and a waterfall.

The setting makes for a peaceful hideaway to take a lunch break, said Stephanie O’Byrne, 53, a gardener who has worked in the conservatory for 30 years.

“It seemed like such a magical place to me when I was a child,” O’Byrne said. “I hope we’re here for another hundred years. I think the people of Spokane are really lucky to have this.”

O’Byrne and other workers and volunteers led tours through the greenhouse and handed out free cake and ice cream as people of all ages strolled through the park, taking in the sights and sounds.

Musicians provided the ambience. A horse-drawn carriage gave tours of the park. Kids rolled around on the grass.

The celebration lasted from 1 to 4 p.m. Midway through the event, O’Byrne estimated that about 600 people had stopped by the birthday bash. She anticipated that perhaps 1,000 people might turn out by the end of the afternoon.

Originally constructed in 1912, the city rebuilt the greenhouse in 1974. Its redwood rafters had been rotting since the 1960s and required frequent maintenance. The new structure, made of aluminum, has proved much more durable.

In 1988, the city enlarged the greenhouse dome area that covers the waterfall and the fish pond. The new dome was named in memory of Dr. David Gaiser, a former Spokane Parks Board president who died in 1985.

Then the city installed energy curtains to the walls of the greenhouse in 1999. The curtains allow gardeners to adjust the amount of sunlight that gets through, giving them a chance to create the perfect conditions for growth according to the plants inside.

“That is probably the most important thing that has happened to that greenhouse while I’ve been here,” O’Byrne said. “We can have full sun on a rainy day and we can close it on sunny days.”

Funding for the event came from the Friends of Manito, volunteers who raise money to maintain the park and enhance its features. The group funnels proceeds from plant sales toward projects like building a $50,000 picnic structure at the south end of the park, which is in store for this year, said TFM president Eberhard Schmidt.

“It takes quite a bit of effort to get musicians in here, the coach ride, the ice cream and free cake,” Schmidt said. “To us, it’s very important.”

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