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Bulldozing Peaceful Valley to save the Spokane River

The bucolic redevelopment envisioned in Spokane’s Peaceful Valley neighborhood in 1974 would have required the complete demolition of the houses there for “harmonious clusters of apartments.” (Spokane Riverfront Development Program)
The bucolic redevelopment envisioned in Spokane’s Peaceful Valley neighborhood in 1974 would have required the complete demolition of the houses there for “harmonious clusters of apartments.” (Spokane Riverfront Development Program)

Even in the swing of Expo ’74, with its international visitors and complete transformation of downtown Spokane, with the removal of the rails and unmasking of the Spokane River, even then planners had bold new ideas for old parts of town.

But how do you follow a World’s Fair? One idea was to completely bulldoze a neighborhood of poor old people to make way for “harmonious clusters of apartments.”

The razing of Peaceful Valley, the neighborhood just west of downtown on the river’s edge, was part of a larger plan put forth by the city plan commission called the Spokane Riverfront Development Program. With Expo, the city had realized the true value of the Spokane River. With the riverfront plan, it would double down on that asset.

“Yesterday it was a forgotten river lost in a maze of industry, railroad yards, deteriorating houses and barren riverbanks,” the plan’s introduction begins. “Today Spokane, through its Riverfront Program, is turning toward its water treasure.”

The goal of the program was to “reclaim the people’s river resource” after decades in which “people forgot, abused and almost lost their river.”

But with “courage and foresight,” as well as “joint citizen-government-community involvement,” the plan set forth a program to bring the river back to its central place in the fate of Spokane.

Peaceful Valley, with its reputation as a “shanty town,” didn’t fit in with that fate.

“Plans call for this area to be developed into apartments in character with this river site,” the plan read, referring to the neighborhood. “Proper planning would permit the development of harmonious clusters of apartments.”

The plan noted that the most recent Census counted 283 people in the valley, most of whom were older than 65, single and made little money.

“Any effort to reclaim Peaceful Valley by replacement of old buildings will be confronted with the problems of rehousing of low-income residents,” the program read.

An overhead, colorful map of the “pleasant residential environment for Peaceful Valley” shows a parklike neighborhood dotted with the occasional apartment tower.

Without direct government action – and the plan said “it is not intended that government buy Peaceful Valley” – the idea to raze and resettle the neighborhood went nowhere.

For more on the series

Visit the Spokane That Never Was


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