Natatorium Park - aka Nat Park
1889 - 1906
If you are over 30 and lived in Spokane you might remember Nat Park. The park was originally Ingersoll Park, a picnic area near the river. In 1887 a Spokane capitalist, Sherwood, financed a cable car line across the first wooden Monroe Street Bridge. The cable car needed a destination at the end to attract riders. In 1890 they added a baseball field to attract more people to the area. The park was very crowded on baseball days but empty at other times. A casino and bar opened on July 26,1890. The name was changed to Twickenham Park.
In 1893 Spokane Street Railway, a part of Washington Water Power, bought the whole park and decided to expand it into an amusement park patterned after Coney Island. They built a swimming pool next to the river and then went looking for a fancy name. They found the Latin name -- natatorium! So that is how Nat Park got its name.
People could take the West Boone Avenue street car for five cents to the end of the line to get to Nat Park. Families took picnics and enjoyed the rides and the swimming pool. It was the first heated pool in Washington State and it was filled with river water.
Natatorium Park was located on the Spokane river where it begins a big S curve. It was several miles from the center of the city at the end of Boone Avenue.
Not all things were great about the park. In the fall of 1900, Emmett Homes went to the Nat park restaurant and was turned away because of his color. He sued WWP for $5,000 dollars, but lost.
Washington Water Power took over the park again in 1909. This is the year the Loof carousel was installed. WWP didn’t not want to pay the $20,000 for it, So it’s builder gave it to his daughter and son-in-law, Emma and Louie Vogel, two concessionaires at the park, as a wedding present.
Nat park had a song written about it in 1909 called “Dear Old Nat”.It was written by A. D. Samuel. That same year they added a greenhouse along with 3 acres of lawn,1,000 flowers and extensive shrubbery.
In 1910, they got rid of the original pool and replaced it with the “Plunge”. It was an Olympic-size swimming pool, which sloped from 2 to 12 feet deep. It was filled with well water and had a domed roof. It was surrounded with 300 changing rooms each with it’s own window. That first year it took 319 tons of coal to heat the pool, at a cost of $19,000.
Wooden park attractions were added during this time. The first was the “Joy Wheel” a spinning wheel that had one rule, “You had to laugh”. The second was the “Dragon Slide”, a long, curvy wooden slide. Both rides gave people splinters and friction burns.
The “Jack Rabbit” roller coaster was installed in 1920 for $60,000. It was the loudest and most popular ride in the park.
1929 - 1962
On April 13, 1929 the Vogel’s bought the park for $137,500. They changed the park’s rides and added new attractions on a yearly basis. For example,the Custer Speedway. He added the Pretzel Dark ride at the beginning of the Great Depression and then changed it to “Fun in the Dark” in 1937. The “Joy Wheel” was turned into the “Nut House” that same year.
In 1936, the trolley line was discontinued and the trolleys were burnt on site at the park. One trolley was not burned; it’s currently being restored. In 1939, the baseball field was changed into a midget racetrack. Nat Park had its last good years during the “Big Band Era”. The last addition to the park was the “Golden Spike” in the spring of 1952. It was a 16-gage railroad. The pool was torn down in 1956. The park was operated by the Vogels until 1962.
1962 - 1968
The Shriners purchased the land for $75,000, in 1962. They did not open the park for the 1963 season. Bill Oliver took over running the park after Louie Vogel’s son, Lloyd passed away. He ran the park for the Shriners from 1965 to 1968. In 1965 a new park employee was killed on the “Jack Rabbit”. The park did not do well in these years and no improvements were made to attract costumers. In November of 1967, an ad for the park rides and equipment was placed in a magazine published for amusement parks.
In the spring of 1968 the park rides were dismantled and the Jack Rabbit was burnt on site. There are still surviving pieces of Nat. The carrousel, the most valued piece, was restored and now sits in Riverfront Park. The cars from the train are currently being stored, one remaining space ship from the swinging spaceship ride is at a private school in town. Finally, one ride is in an Oregon amusement park.
The Loof Carrousel
The Loof Carrousel was a very special attraction at Nat Park. It was installed in 1909. The creator of the Carrousel was a German wood- carver named Charles I.D. Looff. Looff got the idea for the Carrousel from watching a team of wild racing horses on a Brooklyn street in 1904. The Carrousel includes 54 horses, 1 Giraffe, 1 Tiger and 2 dragon chairs, all carved by Looff. It took him two years to carve the horses. Each set of three horses balance from a heavy rod called a 'Crank'. Every horse jumps six times on every revolution of the Carrousel. The Carrousel had a German-made Ruth organ which provides music to this day. The rings add an enjoyment to the ride. The rings are pulled from a ring arm. A brass ring got you a free a ride back then. The reason you had to wait for your turn on the Carousel is because the music would have to rewind. Loof thought that he had an agreement with WWP to purchase the Carrousel, however when he returned to Spokane after two years work, WWP balked at paying $20,000. So, Loof gave the Carrousel as a wedding present to his daughter, Emma and her husband, Louis Vogel. A deal was made for Louis Vogel to operate the Carrousel and other attractions at a percentage. He worked as Concession Director for the next 20 years and then bought Nat Park from WWP in 1929 for $127,000.
When Nat Park closed in 1968, people had no desire to lose the Carrousel. Many of Spokane's citizens started an organization to buy it. The asking price was $40,000. Lots of plastic gold rings and ' Save The Carrousel' buttons were sold. After 7 years in storage, a final site in the new Riverfront Park was selected. It re-opened in 1975. Now the Carrousel is valued at 450,000 dollars.
There are 6 black armored horses and all the horses are different in their own way. The Spokane Carrousel has a lead horse. You can always tell who the lead horse is by its head position. The lead horse always has its head up high. The lead horse's name is Oliver.
For more information on the Spokane Carrousel, visit the Spokane Carrousel site.
Photos used with permission from Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/ Eastern Washington State Historical Society.
L88-40 = Nat Park Baseball
L89-39 = Aerial photo of Nat Park
L89-142 = Cars at Nat Park
L93-65.39 = JackRabbit Roller Coaster
Nat Park Swimming Pool picture from *The Spokesman-Review, May 18, 1997.
copyright (c) 2000, Discovery School.
All rights reserved.
Reports created in 2000, 2001, and 2007.
Revised: September 22, 2002; March 19, 2004; August 24, 2007
Last modified on July 31, 2011