A Historic Look at Riverfront Park by Decade

Members of the Fort Walla Walla Museum’s Heritage Research Services and the Spokane Tribe of Indian’s Preservation Program were called in to complete and extensive survey and investigation of the park and its history. The report generated from this extensive work is a tool that can be used to help identify and understand pieces of the past that may resurface during the redevelopment process. Check out this incredible easy-to-navigate website for a journey through the history of life along the Spokane River and the development of the city. Thank you to the Historic Preservation Office for their incredible work on this website!


Expo 74.2

Riverfront Park occupies 100 acres of land and water in the center of downtown Spokane. The Spokane Falls and the surrounding land has long been a gathering place for people. Native Americans gathered and fished at the falls. In the late 1800s, pioneers settled here and started the city of Spokane. The railroad industry fueled the city’s growth and rail yards covered Havermale Island, the present site of Riverfront Park.

In 1974, Spokane hosted Exposition ‘74, “The World’s Fair.” In preparation for Expo ‘74, the Spokane River was cleaned up, the rail yards were removed, and the Great Northern Railroad Depot on Havermale Island was demolished. The Clocktower is all that remains of the 1902 depot.

Since Expo ’74, there have been various additions and changes to Riverfront Park. While the Gondolas and the Clocktower remain from Expo, the Looff Carrousel was relocated to Riverfront Park in 1975 from Natatorium Park, an historic amusement park that closed in the 1960s.  And, most recently Riverfront Park added the Riverfront Rotary Fountain and Fountain Café to the southern entrance to the Park.

Expo 74.Pavilion ConceptualThe U.S. Federal Pavilion itself, was a gift to the Spokane region from the United States government. The Pavilion during Expo consisted of an 850-seat air-conditioned amphitheater with an IMAX Theater within the primary Pavilion enclosure, a 17,000 square foot central courtyard for theme exhibits that focused on environmental problems and how to address them in the daily American household, and a 5,500 square foot Federal Action Center where you could learn the Federal government’s approach to environmental problems. The Pavilion was one of three buildings meant to remain after EXPO. A quote from Chief Seattle adorned the primary wall upon entering the Pavilion:

“The Earth does not belong to Man. Man belongs to the Earth”

Expo 74.3After EXPO ’74, Spokane looked to maintain the festival atmosphere by removing the amphitheater and replacing it with a petting zoo, amusement rides, an ice rink, and a 90-minute theatrical exhibit on the history of Spokane. The IMAX giant screen moved to its own building adjacent to the Pavilion. By the mid-1980s, only the rides, arcade room and ice rink remained. In the late 1980s Mini-Golf was added as an additional attraction.

While there have been various changes and improvements to the Park since Expo ’74, there has not been a comprehensive look at the Park in its entirety since 1973. In 2012, the City of Spokane Parks and Recreation Department launched an initial Phase I of the present Master Plan. A public survey was distributed and public outreach conducted. The result was a broad look at the Park, its potential uses and potential programmatic zones. The Riverfront Park Master Plan 2014 (Phase II) aims to clarify this overall vision and define specific uses for the Park as Spokane looks to the next 40 years.