Desiree Renshaw

Spokane is Being “Expo-fied”! Here’s What You Need to Know

There are so many fun events coming up in Spokane in May; The Lilac Festival, Bloomsday, The Garden Expo, Spokane Indians and Velocity games, Spokane Navy Week, you name it. But the biggest event – and one that so many of the others are tying into their themes and festivities – is the Expo ’74 50 th Celebration. The commemoration officially kicks off on May 4th (Bloomsday weekend) and runs through July 4th .

What’s the Big Deal?

To be honest, I didn’t understand the infatuation with Expo ’74 until recently. Loads of cities have hosted a World’s Fair event and it was half a century ago. Was that really Spokane’s only claim to fame? But once I delved into it, I uncovered a rich history of transformation that made Spokane what it is today. That period in time shaped so many aspects of the city that we know and love!

If you’ve ever seen aerial views of Spokane prior to the Expo, you’ve probably noticed the unmistakable absence of Riverfront Park. What is now the heart and soul of our downtown – especially after the 2014 redevelopment – used to be a group of railway tracks severing the city in two and cutting downtown off from the river and falls. The area was in desperate need of revitalizing, and a group of downtown property and business owners took the initiative to raise funds and commission an urban renewal plan.

Aerial Photo of Spokane before Expo ‘74, image via Spokesman Review

We’ll fast forward through all the politics and bond issues (because this is a real estate blog, not a history lesson), but this was ultimately the first step to earning an official World’s Fair sanction and forever transforming our downtown core. The railroads were relocated, the railway depots were torn down (save for the clock tower), and the iconic pavilion was erected. The park became a place that brought people together instead of dividing them, and it laid the groundwork for other major outdoor events like Bloomsday and Hoopfest. Let’s not forget that the transformation also brought us River Park Square, which opened its doors on May 1, 1974, and Nordstrom (!!), which opened the same day.

For my history buffs, you can read more about the full Expo story and how it came to pass in this Spokesman article, by Jim Kershner. Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (the MAC) is also featuring a full gallery of recently digitized archival film footage that will take you back to 1974 to see it all for yourself!

What to Expect

Lots of your favorite events and activities will be “Expo-fied”! The theme of this year’s Lilac Festival is “Dare to Dream,” inspired by Spokane being the smallest city to ever host a World’s Fair, and you’ll see various nods to the Expo sprinkled throughout Festival events. The Spokane Indians will also be sporting special “Expo ‘74” uniforms at four games throughout the season, debuting on their Fireworks Night Saturday, May 4 th . Then, of course, there are dedicated Expo Celebration events like the opening celebrations, historic walking tours, speaker panels, feature exhibits, and so much more. Check out Visit Spokane for the official Expo ’74 50 th Celebration website and a full list of events.

Expo ’74 Pillars, image via Visit Spokane

Long story short, my opinion on commemorating Expo ’74 has drastically shifted. I feel incredibly lucky to live in a city with everything Spokane has to offer, and the Expo played a huge role in making it what it is today. Cheers to two months filled with fun events and 75 years of enhancing this beautiful place we call home!

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