Spokane, Washington – Riverfront Park (March 2022)

After being evacuated in September of 2021 from Kings Canyon National Park where I had worked and lived for 5 months due to the huge fires I spent a few weeks around the Vacaville and Sacramento areas of California to spend time with some family and a few friends. From there I came to Post Falls, Idaho in October of 2021 and have settled here for now renting a room from a friend I used to work with in Bremerton, Washington. Post-Falls, Idaho is only 15-20 minutes from Spokane, Washington where I have been having several doctor’s appointments catching up on my health and bad knees. So one day in early March 2022 I had gotten the time mixed up for my doctor’s appointment so I had several hours to kill as I did not want to make the drive back home, only to have to turn around and come back. I have not spent time in Spokane nor do I know much about it, so I spent some time wandering around the downtown area and checking out several amazing old buildings, the River Front Park and Spokane Falls.

Spokane was settled in the late 1800s along the Spokane Falls of the Spokane River, a site which was chosen because of the falls’ hydropower potential to support a late 19th-century city and its economy. As Spokane began to grow over its early years, the area become heavily industrialized with numerous sawmills, flour mills, and hydroelectricity generators. Railroading eventually developed around the falls by the early 20th century.

All of the industrializations eventually obscured the falls and the river from public access and view.   Spokane became the site of four transcontinental railroads ……… Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad, as well as the regional Oregon Railway. By 1914, Union Pacific had built their own station along with elevated tracks leading up to it, on what would eventually years later become the site of the Expo ’74’ Fair and the development of River Front Park. The heart of Downtown Spokane became a hub for passenger and freight rail transport for several decades. By the mid-20th century, the problems of having a large number of railroads in the middle of the city were beginning to be realized. The elevated railway, warehouses, and other lines leading into the park severely restricted both physical and visual access to the Spokane River and its falls, leading some locals to compare it to the Great Wall of China, plus the high volume of train traffic created a very noisy downtown, and many railroad crossings were causing traffic congestion issues.

By the 1950s, the core of Downtown Spokane began to empty out due to suburbanization, a trend that was prevalent among many American cities during this time. This trend sparked urban renewal discussions in Spokane and in 1959, a group called Spokane Unlimited was formed by local business leaders to try and revitalize Downtown Spokane. In 1961 an urban renewal plan was released that called for the removal of the numerous train tracks and trestles downtown and reclaiming the attractiveness of the Spokane River in the central business district. With support over the next decade of revitalizing and beautifying the area, Spokane Unlimited brought forth a plan in 1970 to put on an event in 1973 to celebrate the centennial of Spokane to fund the projects, but it was decided that a local event would not have the stature to bring in enough funding for the group’s beautification aspirations and that it needed to go bigger; it was suggested that Spokane host an international exposition that could bring in state and federal dollars, as well as tourists from outside Spokane, to fund a riverfront transformation. The idea came back very positive and the 1974 world expo became the targeted event.

Expo ’74, officially known as the International Exposition on the Environment, Spokane 1974, was a world’s fair held May 4, 1974, to November 3, 1974, in Spokane, Washington. It was the first environmentally themed world’s fair that was attended by roughly 5.6 million people. The heart of the fair park grounds was located on Cannon Island, Havermale Island, and the adjacent south bank of the Spokane River, comprising present-day River Front Park in the center of the city.

In 1972, Congress approved an $11.5 million appropriation to build the U.S. Pavilion. The city of Spokane’s three railroads were convinced to move. The Union Pacific, Milwaukee Road, and Burlington Northern donated 17 acres of land to the city, worth many millions, and consolidated their routes to tracks away from downtown and two depots were also torn down except for one iconic piece of the Great Northern Depot……It was the 155-foot-tall clocktower, with its nine-foot-diameter clock face. It became one of the most recognized symbols of the fair, and the city itself. It took many months of negotiations, and a series of complex land swaps, but one of Expo ’74’s key goals had already been accomplished. “The Spokane River was now cleared of railroad steel”.

As soon as Expo ’74 was dismantled, work began on transforming the site into the 100-acre Riverfront Park containing the former U.S. Pavilion and the clock tower. In 1978, a new president, Jimmy Carter came to Spokane to dedicate Riverfront Park, which subsequently become the center of many of Spokane’s biggest celebrations, including its Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve festivities, as well as its big annual sports festivals.

The Bavarian Beer Garden during Expo ’74 housed the Looff Carrousel from 1975-2016, but it lacked the stature to properly display the Carrousel’s rounding boards, and the absence of proper climate control was contributing to the degradation of the wood carvings so, in 2014, Spokane citizens voted to re-house the Carrousel as part of a bond to redevelop Riverfront Park. The new Looff Carrousel building has allowed for more space around the Carrousel itself, a facility to hold birthday and corporate events, concession, and a gift shop, as well as a climate-controlled space, to protect the longevity of the wood carvings. Charles Looff, a master craftsman, created the carrousel as a wedding gift for his daughter Emma. On July 18, 1909, the Looff Carrousel began operation in Natatorium Park, an amusement park on the bank of the Spokane River on the west side of Spokane. After many years of entertaining generations of children and families, the doors were closed for good in 1967 and the Carrousel was put in storage. In the early 1970s, a plan was discussed to bring the Carrousel out of storage to display it during Expo 74, but there were concerns that the crowds could damage the hand-carved Carrousel, so it remained in storage and was moved to Riverfront Park in 1975 in a building that had been constructed for the Expo. I

The Gondola still takes visitors on a ride close enough to the Spokane Falls where you can experience the roar and the spray.

Spokane Falls

The name of a waterfall and dam on the Spokane River located in the central business district in downtown, Spokane. The city of Spokane was also initially named “Spokane Falls”.

The falls consists of the Upper Falls and Lower Falls. The Upper Falls Dam is a diversion dam constructed in 1920 that directs the water into the Upper Falls intake on the south channel of the Spokane River. The water not diverted to the south fork by the dam flows over the Upper Falls. The north fork of the river splits again at Canada Island and flows over the two Upper Falls on either side of the island. The north fork converges again after the Upper Falls and is also rejoined by the diverted south fork. The Lower Falls is the site of a second diversion dam, the Monroe Street Dam. Completed in 1890, it was the first dam built on the Spokane River and is currently the longest-running hydroelectric generation facility in Washington State.

Garden Connections

The Sister Cities “Connections” Garden in Riverfront Park opened in September of 2019. The garden is a space to honor and celebrate the importance of the Sister Cities through nature and art. It’s placed at the site of the former Japanese Pavilion at the Expo ’74 World’s Fair. Art plays a key role in the garden, featuring sculptures from partnerships with Limerick, Ireland, Nishinomiya, Japan, Italy and Spokane.

Representing Limerick, an Irish Harp was created by the late Sister Paula Mary Turnbull before she passed. The harp includes music developed by musicians in Limerick.

A half-sized replica of the Imazu Lighthouse in the bay in Nishinomiya, Japan stands in the garden.  The 11-foot high lighthouse, developed by Spokane architect Don Trail, is illuminated.

1,300-pound marble monument showcasing the artistic traditions of Cagli, Italy

The five-foot-high Kokanee Steel salmon sculpture symbolizes the historical site of the river and the Salish tribes of Native Americans who met and fished at the banks of the Spokane River. It was created by Spokane artist Melissa Cole. 

The Joy of Running Together is a public work of art in honor of the annual Spokane Bloomsday Run. Located near the finish line of the race, and is meant to give encouragement to the runners in their last leg of the race. The work is comprised of 40 life-sized figures, all posed in the motion of running. According to the artist, David Govedare, this was accomplished by having runners pose against a wall, putting a bright light on them, and tracing their exact silhouettes. To Govedare, the most important thing about Bloomsday were all the ages, ethnicities, and nationalities of all of the participants coming together and uniting in a single effort to run the race. Because of this, the runners he chose to trace were of all different ethnicities and nationalities.

Several structures built for the fair are still standing. The United States Pavilion still houses an IMAX theater built after the fair (The original one built for the fair beneath the pavilion was abandoned), as well as a winter ice rink. Plans are being made, however, for a new design for the pavilion that will eliminate the IMAX theater. The Washington State Pavilion still stands and is used as the Spokane Convention Center and the First Interstate Center for the Arts. [31][32] An additional six structures, including the Republic of China Pavilion, were moved 150 miles south to Walla Walla where they were re-purposed to be used as classrooms and a performing arts theater for the Walla Walla Community College.[33]

With the exception of two pavilions, all of the major buildings were modular structures assembled on the site. The fair had 5.6 million visitors[3] and was considered a success, nearly breaking even, revitalizing the blighted urban core, and pumping an estimated $150 million into the local economy and surrounding region.

In proclaiming itself the first exposition on an environmental theme, Expo ’74 distanced itself from the more techno-centric world’s fairs of the 1960s. The environmental theme was promoted in several high-profile events, such as a symposium on United Nations World Environment Day (June 5) attended by more than 1,200 people including many international representatives, and ECAFE Day for the United Nations Economic Council for Asia and the Far East (June 14) that discussed regional environment issues.[6]


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