When the City of Spokane sprang from the sudden wealth pulled from the surrounding forests, mountains and rivers by the newly arrived practice of industrial commerce, so did grand visions for its future.
Herbert Bolster, one of Spokane’s founders, and later one of the first 10 investors in Washington Water Power, saw in the growth of the city the opportunity to strike out on his own and create a new city called Twickenham. It didn’t happen.
After numerous visits during 1907 and 1908, and with a $1,000 payment, the Olmsted Brothers produced a report for Spokane, the General Plan of the Park System. The plan has helped guide the city’s park system since its creation, with one glaring exception. The Great Gorge Park remains the great unfinished aspect of the plan, but not for want of trying.
Double-decker loop of downtown streets for buses, trucks and taxis. Underground tunnels for pedestrians. Railroads shunted to subways. Welcome to the alternate Spokane of 1936, where city planners had some big ideas for how to make the city better for cars.
Probably the grandest plan undone in Spokane was Ebasco, a proposal that led to the complete reformation of city government, recognition of the central place the Spokane Falls and river hold in the city, and to one of most complete rebukes by voters to the business and political leaders who steered and controlled Spokane. It also led to Expo ’74.
The downtown Spokane Public Library sits on a storied location, one that could reveal the layers of city transformation, from a devastating fire to a hub of transportation to a place of commerce simply by digging a hole and rifling through the soil. One thing that’s missing, buried deep in the city’s memory, is the plan for a pedestrian plaza called Lincoln Square.
How would Spokane’s leaders follow the immense popularity and the transformative effect Expo ’74 had on the city? One idea was to completely bulldoze Peaceful Valley, the neighborhood just west of downtown of poor old people to make way for “harmonious clusters of apartments.”
As the blush of Expo wore off, along with the cloth covering of the U.S. Pavilion, urban planners were at a loss. The fair had done the work to deliver a blank canvas for downtown growth. Lost in the redevelopment was the river’s north bank, so planners put together the North Riverbank Urban Design Plan in 1982, an idea which wouldn’t be fully realized for nearly 30 years.
In 1992, the Spokane City Council directed staff to begin the design and construction of a new span over the Spokane Falls, dubbed the Lincoln Street Bridge. Seven million dollars and eight years later, city voters effectively killed the bridge. What went wrong?