When Judith Gilmore first moved to Spokane’s West Central neighborhood in 1974, what is now Dutch Jake’s Park was a lot with an empty house.
The lot she remembers was replaced by grass, picnic benches and a playground, and it became a place for families without air conditioners to find refuge from the heat. Over the years, however, the one public green space the neighborhood shared no longer felt safe for children and their parents.
“It got to where families couldn’t do that anymore.That’s always sad when things deteriorate like that,” Gilmore said.
On Tuesday, she was one of many West Central residents, along with the mayor and other city officials, gathered to celebrate the upcoming renovation of Dutch Jake’s Park, which will reopen to the public in the fall.
Gilmore said she was at the grand opening of the park in 1976, and she was one of many West Central residents who said they planned to return to the park once renovations were complete.
The Spokane Parks Department partnered with Kaiser Permanente and The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization that works to make sure everyone is only a 10-minute walk away from a public park, to design and fund the renovations.
The renovated park will be fenced. It will have a new playground in the shade, a new basketball court and an outdoor music and gathering space. The cost of the project is $540,000.
If the parks department had not partnered with Kaiser Permanente and The Trust for Public Land, it likely would have only been able to afford a new playground, parks Director Garrett Jones said.
He said once Riverfront Park renovations are complete downtown, the parks department will shift its focus to revitalizing neighborhood parks such as Dutch Jake’s Park, making sure every community has a safe place for children to play and people to gather.
Casey Simmons, the Northwest program director for The Trust for Public Land, said Spokane had the eighth-largest park access gap in the state. In Washington, about 1.4 million people aren’t within walking distance of a safe public park.
Simmons said the Dutch Jake’s Park design is based on input from community groups. A few of the park’s iconic features, such as the evergreen trees at the center, will remain to shade children’s activities.
“You don’t get the opportunity to plant trees like this, so the fact the Dutch Jake’s already has them is a huge boost,” Simmons said.
He said the park will also have a new walking path, which is one of the more effective ways to encourage people to be active.
Curt Chambers, a 20-year resident of West Central, hopes the park will again become a community space, where Bloomsday bands can perform and race spectators can cheer.
Since he moved to the neighborhood, he said, the park has started to look more like a homeless camp and is not a place he would likely send his children, who are 14 and 10. Once the park renovations are finished this fall, he said he wouldn’t have a problem sending his children there for the afternoon.
The lot and empty house Gilmore remembers were owned by Harry Baer, park namesake Jacob “Dutch Jake” Goetz’s business partner. The park has remained unchanged since it opened and still is a place many residents remember fondly.
Lifelong Spokane resident Wendy LaMorte pointed at one of the evergreen trees that still stands in Dutch Jake’s Park, saying some of her favorite childhood memories happened underneath that tree. She said it was where her first crush said “Hi” to her when she was about 10, and the two became friends after that and rode bikes around West Central the rest of the summer.
LaMorte and her mother both grew up in West Central and she has since moved elsewhere in Spokane, but she hopes the next generation will have a chance to gather and make memories in a beloved neighborhood park like she did.
“You wouldn’t think that a little park, that would bring that to you, but it does,” she said.
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