May 10, 2012 in Washington Voices

King Collection: Picnics in the park

By The Spokesman-Review

This unidentified couple share a picnic at Natatorium Park in 1904. “Nat Park” as everyone called it, was located along the Spokane River below the modern-day West Central Neighborhood. In the early 1900s it was famous for its picnic grounds, reached for 5 cents on the West Boone Avenue street car. The park was also known for its swimming pool built along the river and would, in 1909, become home to the now famous Looff Carrousel (now at Riverfront Park). Nat Park closed in 1968, and Sans Souci West, a housing community, is on the land where Nat Park once drew thousands of people on warm weekends.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

On the first day of hot weather at the end of April, young women throughout the Inland Northwest dressed for the heat and walked through the region’s parks in short-shorts, swirly skirts, sleeveless tops and open-toed sandals.

It’s a sartorial rite of spring. When the warm days arrive, so do the light clothes. Ahhh.

Look back a century to The Spokesman-Review’s King Collection and realize that women in the early 1900s never got to ditch the heavy clothes when out in public, no matter the heat index. Not in the park. Not by the lakeside.

The woman picnicking in Natatorium Park in 1904 wears a long-sleeved blouse with a high-neck collar, plus a thick skirt over thick hose. Somewhere nearby, surely, are the gloves she removed before picking up her sandwich. The man didn’t get off much lighter. A suit, vest, tie, and his hat on the bench next to him.

This was not a lunch-hour break. This was weekend leisure. A picnic in the park in the heat.

The woman posing in Audubon Park on Spokane’s North Side, in 1912, is wearing black, her white collar and white hat a lighter nod to the warm season, but the dress looks both heavy and warm.

In another photo, the King sisters picnic on the road to Liberty Lake, the dresses are a little lighter. In both color and fabric. The women do not wear hats.

The Liberty Lake photo was taken in 1918, and women’s collars were finally working their way down the neck, as more formal Edwardian influences were giving way to the coming 1920s when women’s skirts grew shorter and elaborate hats got ditched in all weather.

No one looks unhappy in the photos, because when warm weather finally arrives after a long winter, we must get out in it, in heavy clothes or in light clothes, in this century, as well as the last. Ahhh.

The Spokesman-Review’s King Collection is an archive of photos and memorabilia from the King family that prospered in Spokane in the early 20th century. Staff writer Rebecca Nappi can be reached at or (509) 459-5496.

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