The History of Expo '74

In 1959 a group of Spokane businessmen united and formed Spokane Unlimited with the goal of revitalizing the downtown core. They hired a city planner named King Cole to begin the work of saving Spokane. Their end goal was to remove the tangled web of train tracks and cracking parking lot surfaces and create a central city park with the river at its heart.

The Father of Expo 74”

King Cole and wife Jan Cole

Cole received the first name King from his father, who was correctly convinced that his son was destined for great things. Known as the “Father of the Expo,” King Cole was the driving force that brought Expo '74 to life and reinvigorated the heart of downtown Spokane.

In order to accomplish the lofty vision of a vibrant downtown district, Cole pitched the idea to Spokane Unlimited to bid on hosting a world's fair. Cole traveled 700,000 miles in three years, garnering support from local, state and national leaders and the Bureau of International Expositions. It was a long shot, but Spokane was selected as the smallest city ever to host the international event.

The Expo would be the first environmentally focused World's Fair in history, a change of pace from the common theme of tech of the future. Instead, planners used Expo '74 as an opportunity to pivot toward sustainability and the preservation of the planet for the future. The official theme of the expo would be "Celebrating Tomorrow's Fresh, New Environment."

Artist Keith Oka’s renderings of King Cole’s vision for Expo 74 during the day

Keith Oka’s renderings of King Cole’s vision for Expo 74 by night

This pumped both federal and state funding into the redevelopment of the downtown core. Spokane Unlimited convinced the railroads to donate the property and land to the cause and the train tracks came down for good, the parking lots disappeared. The Spokane River banks became Riverfront Park, and the Spokane Falls, hidden for decades under industrial chains, were once again revealed. The gondola - now known as the SkyRide -- was built as part of Expo ‘74 and new pedestrian suspension bridges brought visitors closer to the falls for the first time in decades.

Before Expo 74

During Expo 74

Expo ’74 opened May 4, 1974, to a crowd of 85,000. Speakers included President Richard Nixon, Gov. Dan Evans and Congressman Tom Foley.

During its six-month run from May to November 1974, 5.2 million people visited Expo ’74. The event pumped an estimated $150 million (approx. $918 million today) into the local economy and surrounding region.

Watch: Expo '74 - Fair to Future