Spokane Valley woman’s Bavarian-style model house keeps hometown close to her heart
May 10, 2017 Updated Wed., May 10, 2017 at 2:11 p.m.
Waltraud Gardner shows the details on the model wooden tower and classic German house her father made many years ago Monday at her home in Spokane Valley. The house and water tower are icons of her childhood home, Grafenwoehr, a town in Germany which is now dominated by an American military base. As a child, she walked by the house and tower almost every day. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
She was just 11 years old when Allied bombs started falling on her hometown of Grafenwoehr in Germany. Home to a large, and at the time German, military installation Grafenwoehr was a prime target for American and British bombers, who were trying to stop the progress of the German Army.
“I was so scared. Twice we got bombed really badly. I’d say 80 percent of my village was gone,” said Waltraud Gardner.
In the corner of Gardener’s Spokane Valley living room sits a beautiful handmade model of two large buildings from her hometown.
A large Bavarian-style house and a model of the famous “Wasserturm Grafenwoehr” – the fancy 1909 water tower on the military base – was carefully built out of wood by her father and shipped here in the early 1960s.
“He missed me so much, and I missed him,” Gardner said. “He built me something that was like home so I wouldn’t miss it too much.”
The water tower is complete down to the famous canon-shaped weather vane, and the large house, also known as the Forest House, has balconies and window shutters, just like the real one.
Gardner said the two buildings are iconic to her hometown and that she walked between them on her way to work, before she met the American service man that won her heart.
She worked for the telephone company on the base, so she’d learned some English by the time she met Bill Gardner.
“He wanted me to come to America with him, but I couldn’t leave home,” Gardner said. “I wrote him a letter saying I’m not going.”
But Bill Gardner had different plans. He wrote her back saying he’d come and get her.
In 1953 they married in Germany and then moved first to Wilbur, Washington, and then to Spokane, where Bill Gardner managed furniture stores.
“He was only 55 when he died from cancer,” Gardner said.
Three grown children have moved away and started their own families.
Gardner was part of the German American Society in Spokane for many years, but now said she’s happily retired from it all.
“When I was a child I saw Hitler and General Padden and General Rommel in parades in my village,” Gardner said. “And now here I am.”
She looks at the model her father built of her hometown and clasps her hands in front of her heart.
“I love it. I just love it,” Gardner said.
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