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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: New downtown plaza needs a signature name

A visitor walks through the new plaza at Spokane City Hall. (Dan Pelle)
A visitor walks through the new plaza at Spokane City Hall. (Dan Pelle)

Have you been down to the new plaza and park between City Hall and the river?

If not, I’d go now if you can. The new space opens up such beautiful views of the river – along with the roar and mist of it – and provides such a pleasant place to linger and enjoy it that it’s shocking to consider how long that prime piece of land was used for parking.

But now the plaza has arrived, and while still in the glow of infancy it needs a name. The city is gathering suggestions through the end of this month. Eventually, the City Council will pick a winner.

So far, the city’s received about 24 submissions, spokesman Brian Coddington said. The names suggested range from the fairly obvious – King Cole Plaza – to the obvious in another kind of way – Children of the Sun Plaza – to the imaginatively impaired – Spokane Municipal Plaza. But there’s definitely room for more.

The new park and plaza were unveiled May 2. Avista owns Huntington Park, and gave it new landscaping, walkways, statues and other new amenities as part of the utility’s 125th anniversary. Above the park is the plaza, which is owned by the city; Avista paid for the work there, Coddington said.

Here are the names that had been submitted for consideration earlier this week, with a little added background:

King Cole Plaza. King Cole is known as the Father of Expo ’74, and his efforts to bring the event to Spokane led to changes in the city that define us to this day. Riverfront Park, Spokane Falls Boulevard, the Opera House – the way the city folds itself around the Spokane River, instead of a rail yard, arises from the push to bring the world’s fair here. It was the smallest city to ever host a world’s fair, and among Cole’s greatest achievements was helping to overcome the sense that it was simply too ambitious a goal.

He died in 2010. “Spokane has lost a legend,” Lois Stratton, a former state lawmaker and Cole’s secretary during Expo, said at the time. “King Cole gave his heart and soul to Spokane.”

Seepays Perch or Seepays Point. This suggestion was submitted by Bill Stimson, a Eastern Washington University journalism professor. Here’s part of his nomination: “ ‘Seepays’ is the Salish word for ‘chief of the waters’ and was the title of the person designated to oversee the multi-tribal gathering to fish for salmon each year. … The tribes all cooperated in fishing the Falls, but also took the gathering as a chance to confer, party, compete in games, gamble and sort out any territorial disputes that had come up in the past year.

“The name certainly should be something from the Native American world. The Falls was at the center of their lives for something like 5,000 years; it has been at the center of whites’ lives for about 150 years, and half that time we didn’t care that much about it.”

Sonora Smart Dodd Plaza. Dodd is the Spokane woman known as the Mother of Father’s Day. An Arkansas native who moved to the area at age 7, Dodd was particularly fond of her father. In 1909, at age 27, Dodd heard a sermon at church that touched on the newly created Mother’s Day, and she approached the clergy to suggest that a day honoring fathers was also needed. The first Father’s Day was celebrated in Spokane in 1910; six years later, it was a national holiday.

Som Plaza. This nomination was made in honor of Isamu Jordan, a Spokane musician and journalist who died far, far too young last year.

Children of the Sun Plaza. This is a reference to the Spokane Tribe. Another suggestion along these lines was First Peoples Plaza.

• Many have submitted some fairly generic names. These include Spokane People’s Plaza, Liberty Plaza, Spokane Falls Plaza, Spirit of the Falls Plaza and the aforementioned Spokane Municipal Plaza.

There are, doubtlessly, other names worth considering out there, names from Spokane’s history, names connected to our sense of this place. There’s a lot of merit to naming something after King Cole – three people nominated him – on this 40th anniversary of Expo, naturally. There’s also a lot of merit to Stimson’s suggestion, or to any kind of name that would reflect the essential nature of the location for the Spokane Tribe.

Huntington Park does include features that honor this legacy. But at the ceremony unveiling the new park and plaza May 2, Spokane Tribe Chairman Rudy Peone – while praising the cooperative spirit behind the venture – also gave the gathered officials and citizens a little reminder about the history behind many of the names of things around here.

Like, you know, Spokane.

“The city of Spokane, the Spokane River, off in the distance, once you get away from these buildings, you can see Mount Spokane,” he said. “Those are all major landmarks. You have the Spokane Indians baseball team. You have Peone Prairie. You have Chief Garry Park. I could go on and on and name entities, municipalities, things that are here to stay. Was the Spokane Tribe named after those, or were those named after the Spokane Tribe?

“The Spokane Tribe has been here and we will always be here. … It’s very important to our people, this place.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or

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