Celebrating Expo ‘74

It is impossible to imagine what Spokane would be like if there had never been an Expo ’74. The decision to undertake the work associated with hosting a world’s fair is one that completely changed the face of Spokane. When you look at the downtown area, the fingerprints of the Expo ’74 changes can be found all around you. Many of the most notable structures in Spokane can trace some element of their history to the Expo. This year the city is celebrating the 40 year anniversary of the expo, so we thought that this was a good time to stop and think about the impact of the event on the city.

Expo 74 Ticket

Hosting a World’s Fair in Spokane

The idea to become the third city in the Pacific Northwest to host a world’s fair was the kind of audacious vision that is required for big things to take place. The work that would go into getting the city ready for Expo ’74 was significant, but the city had forward thinkers who felt like the effort was worth it. The project required the removal of railroad tracks, demolishing buildings, revamping buildings and bridges, and the creation of what is now known as Riverfront Park.

Expo ’74 was notable for being the first world’s fair that had an environmental theme, which worked perfectly for a city that is perfectly nestled within such beautiful natural vistas. At the time that Spokane hosted the expo, we were the smallest city to have ever hosted a world’s fair. The groundbreaking work that was done in hosting the fair has not only changed the city, it has also been influential for other cities hosting their own fairs.

Landmarks of Expo ‘74

The work leading up to Expo ’74 included the revitalization of some buildings, and the demolition of others. There were also a number of new features that were added to the downtown landscape. Although there are many more, here are a few of the notable structures that were added or revitalized leading up to the expo.

Spokane Riverfront Park

Riverfront Park

Riverfront Park is among the most loved parts of the Expo ’74 legacy. Many of the other recognizable features are found in the park.

Clock Tower Riverfront

The Clocktower

The Clocktower was originally connected to the Great Northern Railroad depot. The history of the tower is an interesting one, which we devoted an entire block post to a while back.

The Flour Mill

The Flour Mill

The Flour Mill is one of the historic buildings that were repurposed in support of the expo. Once an operating flour mill, the building was repurposed as a commercial space leading up to the fair.

Skyride Gondola

Skyride Gondola

A tram system was set up to go over the falls during the expo, and supplied visitors with some of the area’s most awe-inspiring views. The old tram was replaced in 2005 with the updated version that people can experience today.

Spokane Pavilion at Riverfront Park


Another of the most recognizable features from the fair is the Pavilion in Riverfront Park. Originally covered with a cloth canopy, the skeleton was left in place after the conclusion of the fair.

Celebrating 40 Years

There will be ongoing celebration of the Expo ’74 anniversary, but there are a couple of events taking place over the May 3rd weekend. For more information, visit Expo74.org.

The Story that Spokane’s Riverfront Park Clock Tower Tells

Clock Tower at Night

Clocktower at Night by spokanenightscenes.com

There are many historic buildings in Spokane, but few tell as much of a story about the history of the city as the Clocktower on Havermale Island in Riverfront Park. The changes in the city during the Clocktower’s existence, and the role that the tower itself played in those changes, weave a narrative thread about the development of Spokane over the years.

Great Northern Railroad Depot and ClocktowerWhen the Clocktower was originally constructed in 1902, it started as a part of the Great Northern Railroad depot. Following the Great Fire of 1889, Spokane experienced a building boom that created much of the downtown landscape that exists today. Railroads were one of the driving forces of commerce in Spokane, causing the city to become a transportation hub for the Inland Northwest, as well as an important shipping center.

At the time of its initial construction, the Clocktower’s South wall was a part of the exterior wall of the depot, with the North, East, and West walls in the inside of the building. A reminder of the tower’s history can even be seen on the East and West walls, as there are visible sloping lines on the exterior where the roof of the depot was originally located.

Over the following decades, the railroad became a decreasingly important part of the transportation landscape in the United States, and Spokane was no exception. In the years leading up to Expo ’74, the Great Northern Railroad Depot was torn down, but thankfully the Clocktower was left intact, and continues to stand as a reminder of Spokane’s railroad past. In fact, a brass plaque on its side reads that the Clocktower “stands as a monument to the railroad industry and its role in the development of Spokane and the Pacific Northwest.” With the tower’s involvement in Expo ’74, the 155 foot structure has been a fixture in Spokane’s transition from the rail age to what you find today.

The Clocktower has to be wound every week by hand. In 2011, the Spokesman Review posted a set of photos that show the inside of the tower, and the process of winding the clock, a job that requires turning the crank 99 turns to keep the timepiece going from week to week.

The thing that makes the various classic features of the Spokane skyline so interesting are the stories that they tell about our city’s history. The Clocktower is an important part of that story, and remains one of Spokane’s most important landmarks.