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Monday, June 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Shawn Vestal: Years of citizen effort has brought Expo ’74 butterfly back to Riverfront Park

A painter touches up the paint on the butterfly-shaped frame recently installed on a new base and pole by the north entrance to Riverfront Park, on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Several steel butterfly sculptures, with colorful vinyl covers, marked the entrances to Expo ’74 and only a few survive. The frame, which can rotate like a weather vane, will be covered with lilac-colored vinyl. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A painter touches up the paint on the butterfly-shaped frame recently installed on a new base and pole by the north entrance to Riverfront Park, on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Several steel butterfly sculptures, with colorful vinyl covers, marked the entrances to Expo ’74 and only a few survive. The frame, which can rotate like a weather vane, will be covered with lilac-colored vinyl. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The butterflies are back. One of them, anyway.

For the first time in decades, a steel-framed butterfly towers above the north-bank entrance to Riverfront Park, near the Flour Mill and Spokane Arena where Mallon Avenue curves north onto Howard Street. In a few days, wings of lilac fabric will be attached, which should allow the butterfly to lift and spin and flutter in the wind, and the return of the Lilac Gate – the name of that butterfly-marked entrance during Expo ’74 – will be complete.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Jennifer Leinberger, a Spokane resident who lit the community’s fire to bring back the iconic Expo structures. “This has been a long journey with a lot of twists and turns.”

Leinberger spent the past few years rallying citizens and public officials to restore two of the large butterflies that flew during Expo ’74 as part of the Riverfront Park renovations. During the World’s Fair, five brightly colored butterflies served as checkpoints, meeting places and way-finding aids; the butterflies were each colored differently and represented a different part of the park.

Over the years, the butterflies wore out, broke down and vanished. In 2015, Leinberger formed a citizens group to press city officials to restore butterflies in the park; by that point, the location of just two butterflies was known. One was in city storage; the other lay in a field next to the Arena.

Leinberger formed a citizens group, Save the Expo Butterflies, and became a regular presence at planning meetings, urging officials to put back the butterflies. Eventually, the city took over the restoration of the north bank butterfly, since the components of the structure had been stored on city property.

The refurbished frame went up Tuesday. The $93,000 cost of the work was included in the budget for the renovated North Promenade of the park. It will be part of an expanded and beautified north entrance that will open to the public next month, said Josh Morrisey, a marketing assistant with the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department.

Though the fabric wings won’t be attached to the frame until next week, Morrisey said there’s already been a lot of positive reactions over the butterfly’s rise.

“People are really excited to see something that iconic being brought to life,” he said.

The aim is to raise the second butterfly, which is still in parts next to the Arena, through a fundraising effort managed by the Parks Foundation.

“As soon as people see how this one looks, it’s going to really help with the push to put the second one in,” Leinberger said.

Leinberger’s family moved to Spokane in the midst of Expo ’74. She was 3 at the time, and while she said she has some memories of a “sense of magic” surrounding the closing ceremonies, most of her memories of the butterflies came as she grew up – and as she watched the poor things degrade and fall apart.

“It was more about going to the park with my mom post-Expo, and we’d see the butterflies,” she said in an interview in November 2017. “They looked sadder and sadder all the time.”

Now – thanks to a lot of hard work and persistence from Leinberger and others – the butterflies, along with our centerpiece park, are looking better and better all the time.

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