Buried treasure

by Pat Munts

To the casual observer, the hillside above Seventh and Bernard behind the CORBIN HOUSE is nothing more than a tangle of brush, pines and house-sized hunks of basalt. However, if you were to take one of the steep paths that crisscross the tangle, you would find the remnants of rock walls, formal paths and steps that once went somewhere. This was obviously once much more than a tangle of forest.

What you have stumbled across are the bones of a sleeping beauty, the remains of two once-magnificent estate gardens. One was the erstwhile gardens of U.S. Senator and Mrs. George Turner; the other is that of the Corbin family. The recently formed Corbin and Moore-Turner Heritage Garden Project Committee aims to restore and renovate the 5.6-acre garden to its former glory.

Earlier this month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation helped supporters take another step in the project when they presented a $3,000 check to help with the design of the first phase of the project.

"The National Trust was particularly impressed with the fact that these gardens were relatively undisturbed and that there was considerable documentation available to guide the restoration," says Lynn Mandyke, director of the Corbin Art Center and spokesperson for the project. The entire restoration could cost as much as $2 million. About $100,000 has been raised to date.

The gardens were originally separate gardens on adjoining estates overlooking downtown Spokane. The Moore-Turner gardens were initially designed by F. Rockwood Moore, an early president of Washington Water Power, who died in 1895 at age 43. After his death, the Turners purchased the house and garden and continued to add to the garden. By the early-1920s, the gardens covered 2.9 acres below the rocky basalt cliff. Paths took the visitor past plants brought from around the world and a 70-foot-long trout pool with a waterfall.

The Corbin gardens, which covered 2.7 acres, followed a similar history. These gardens featured a miniature castle and footbridge that piqued the imagination of the children visiting the estate. After Mrs. Turner died in the 1930s, the Turner house stood empty until it was torn down in 1940. In 1945, the city purchased both pieces of land and combined them into Pioneer Park. The gardens fell into disrepair and disappeared under the brush and trees.

The gardens remained hidden until 1996, when Mandyke "rediscovered" them as she surveyed the cleanup of downed trees left behind the center in the wake of Ice Storm. Mandyke began to research the history of the garden and enlist the help of community organizations, garden enthusiasts and the Spokane Parks Department to study the feasibility of restoring the gardens.

"These gardens were unique because they had not been altered or built into like other historic gardens in the city," adds Mandyke.

If you'd like to help with the project, please contact the Corbin Art Center at 625-6677.

Trees, Please

Efforts to expand Spokane's urban forest got a boost last month. THE MORAN PRAIRIE TREES PROJECT and the Spokane Audubon Society have been awarded a $7,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to fund several projects that will bring more trees to public spaces in the neighborhood. The award was one of 16 made to community groups around the state by the WSDNR's Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Urban and Community Forestry Program.

The Moran Prairie Trees Project (MPTP) got its start in November of 1999 after 57th Avenue was widened to meet the needs of the growing population in the area. The widening took out a number of established trees along the roadway. Carrie Anderson, a member of the Moran Prairie Neighborhood Association surveyed property owners along 57th about their interest in planting trees along the street. The idea of just planting trees along the one street quickly grew into a project to bring trees to other places in the neighborhood and to educate people about appropriate selection and care of street tree plantings.

By Arbor Day, 2000, community members had formed the MPTP with seed money from Avista and other community businesses. On the day set aside to celebrate the importance of trees in our culture, the first trees were planted.

During 2000 and into early 2001 the group worked with the city to move several trees that were planted under utility lines to places where they grow freely. They are establishing a resource and information center at the Moran Prairie Library and are recruiting other community groups to help meet the grant's matching requirements. A series of workshops will help residents learn how to select street trees that do not interfere with utility lines and care for the trees. A number of local businesses have contributed money and space for planting.

The Moran Vista Assisted Living Center located on 57th Avenue has agreed to host a "Utility-Smart Tree Demonstration Site." The street front area in front of the center is to be planted with trees and shrubs that will not grow high enough to come into contact with overhead utility lines.

The grant will help supporters of the project expand many of these projects and lay the groundwork for others, including:

* A Street Tree Master Plan that will identify potential planting sites, select appropriate trees for each location and establish a maintenance plan.

* A "Utility Smart" tree-planting demonstration area that will provide the community with examples of what and how to plant to minimize the problems that arise when tall trees grow into overhead utility lines. A series of workshops that will help establish selection and management standards for future tree planting throughout the neighborhood.

* Ongoing community tree planning projects that will bring out community members to plant trees along major streets and in public places.

* A Moran Prairie Trees Project Supporters plaque that will acknowledge the support of all the contributors to the program. F

For more information on the Moran Prairie Trees Project, call: 448-8134.