Balusters, railings and gingerbread siding on the gazebo in Coeur d’Alene Park are slowly rotting just seven years after the first paint dried.
More than $90,000 of public money was spent on a replica of an onion-domed Victorian bandstand that graced the park a century ago.
At its dedication in April 1990, the new gazebo was hailed as a hallmark of renewal in historic Browne’s Addition.
Today, the gazebo is in danger of becoming a symbol of inner city decay.
Paint is peeling. Decorative railings and keyhole siding are falling apart from exposure to rain and snow. Vandals also have taken a toll.
One park official estimates it could cost as much as $80,000 or more to restore the building.
Its foundation, support structure and roof remain in good shape, but the city has little in the way of money for a major rehabilitation.
“It’s certainly a disappointment,” said longtime resident Mary Moltke.
The problems trace back to the project’s conception and design.
Leaders in Browne’s Addition wanted to build the replica based on sketches of the old gazebo found in city files. Parks officials warned that recreating a complicated Victorian structure was overly ambitious and could become a maintenance nightmare.
City files from the late 1980s show the neighborhood’s desire for historical accuracy won out over practical concerns by park staffers and architects.
Coeur d’Alene Park at Second and Chestnut is the oldest park in Spokane, dating back to 1883. It was deeded to the city in 1891 by pioneer developers J.J. Browne and A.M. Cannon.
The bandstand appears in historical photos from the 1890s.
Neighborhood leaders tried to recreate the bandstand and include features so it could be used for modern musical performances.
The original design included an expandable stage, stage lighting, flower beds and other features that turned out to be so costly the project was scaled back.
Taylor Bressler, park maintenance manager, documented his concerns in a 1989 memo:
“The parks department will be taking on more than it needs with the excessive accoutrements of this gazebo structure,” Bressler wrote.
Cost-cutting measures led to some of the problems.
The original plans called for using hand-turned balusters in the railings, but the designers saved money by going with prebuilt balusters instead.
The balusters that were used were suitable for indoor staircases, not an outdoor exterior gazebo, Bressler said, adding that it’s no surprise they’ve been rotting out.
The cuts allowed the city to keep the project within its $93,000 budget.
Members of the Browne’s Addition Steering Committee pushed the gazebo project as part of a larger package of improvements to the neighborhood in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Other projects included a traffic circle at Pacific and Cannon, two wrought-iron trolley bus stops, old-fashioned light poles in the park and new entrance signs for the neighborhood.
Neighbors had a lot of influence over the decision-making because the city gives steering committees control over the use of federal grant money for development of low-income neighborhoods, including Browne’s Addition.
The spending must meet federal guidelines and is intended to improve low-income areas.
Dean Lynch, who was a member of the steering committee in the 1980s and remains a member today, said he still believes the gazebo was a good choice.
The problems, he said, came from the choice of materials. The balusters, rails and sill boards that hold them in place were not sufficiently weatherproof, he said.
Also, a pressed particleboard was used to form the cutout keyhole sections on the outer surfaces of the walls. That is not a good exterior product, he said.
“Materials that were used were not designed to withstand exterior use, and that’s why it’s rotted out,” Lynch said.
Dan Bresnahan, a member of the gazebo planning committee, said he believes vandals are responsible for a lot of the damage.
Vandals have torn off pieces of the latticework that covers the raised floor and foundation of the bandstand, he said.
“I think the story is vandalism,” Bresnahan said.
Mary Olsen, owner of an historic mansion in the neighborhood, said the problems are a lot worse than vandalism.
“It’s not vandalism,” she said. “It’s rot. It’s decay. It’s improper materials.”
She said the gazebo should have been built “the old-fashioned way.”
Pete Hamre, the contractor on the project, declined to discuss the problems because, he said, his memory of the job has faded after seven years.
Records show that the contractor was delayed in 1989 because of a concern by the building department over the height of the railing.
The original gazebo had a 25-inch-high railing, and the design for the replica called for the same height. Modern building codes suggest a 42-inch railing to prevent people from falling over it.
The building director and the architect debated the issue until they settled on a compromise of 36 inches.
Instead of starting work in June, Hamre went to work in September. His crews didn’t finish painting the detail work until the following spring.
Parks officials said the delay in painting isn’t the problem as much as the way the building is designed. A lot of the railings are exposed to direct rainfall. The roof has no overhang.
Steve Clark, one of the architects on the project, said the original gazebo didn’t last very long in its time, probably because the wood was exposed to the elements.
“The fact that the (original) building isn’t there any more is a testament to its shortcomings,” he said.
Clark said he recommended against building a replica and instead submitted sketches for prebuilt gazebos with wide overhangs. A top quality catalog gazebo made from cedar could have cost about half as much money, he said.
He said his firm was basically told to design a replica despite his misgivings.
“That project was not a happy project for me,” Clark said.
Today, he no longer works on public projects, he said.
But Clark, who later served on the Park Board, believes the community development efforts have worked in Browne’s Addition.
“In the past 20 years, they have evolved a sense of community they should be congratulated for,” he said.
Parks officials said the problems with the gazebo today are not maintenance neglect.
Tony Madunich, park maintenance supervisor, said his staff has done whatever it could within its budget to fix problems as they arise.
Two years ago, an anonymous donor hired a contractor to replace some of the failing balusters in the railing. Now, those balusters are coming apart, too, even though they were soaked in wood preservative before being installed.
“They’ve failed miserably as well,” Madunich said.
“The real dilemma for me is throwing good money after bad.”
He said it would cost $15,000 to replace the wooden balusters with fiberglass replicas.
Bressler said a complete restoration could run as high as $100,000.
He has met with neighborhood leaders, who are concerned about the deterioration, to brainstorm ideas for raising restoration money.
However, community development funds cannot be used for maintenance, so the neighborhood may have to rely on donations and fund-raisers.
“I think the structure is lovely and it belongs where it is,” Bressler said. “We are where we are because there could have been better selections, better materials.”
“I’ve got a pretty big park system that needs a lot of things,” Bressler said. “The neighborhood needs to come forward and say, ‘Let’s save the gazebo.”’
As homeowner Mary Olsen put it, “The gazebo is the crown jewel of the neighborhood.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
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