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When the World Came to Visit

By Charles Apple The Spokesman-Review

Forty-five years ago this week — June 5, 1974 — the first United Nations World Environment Day was observed right here in Spokane.

Nearly all world’s fairs have had themes. The theme for Expo ’74 was "Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment." That seemed mighty appropriate given the eyesore that became the fair site: a blighted area with two train depots and an unsightly tangle of railroad tracks.

Canada used its exhibit to focus on the beauty of nature. West Germany showcased how technology impacts the environment. The giant U.S. Pavilion included a courtyard of green grass and a vinyl-and-steel tentlike structure where guests were shown one of the first IMAX movies ever made.

The Women’s Council of Realtors sponsored a trash can in the form of an iron goat, sculpted by Sister Paula Turnbull of Fort Wright College. A recording would ask for your garbage. The goat would then suck down the trash via a powerful vacuum system. Not baa-aad.

Not everybody was totally on board with the Expo’s environmental theme. The Mormon Pavilion, for example, put its focus on “moral pollution.” And Ford featured its recreational vehicles — not exactly the most environmentally friendly models.

The revitalization of Spokane’s river and waterfalls was a major topic of the fair. The United Nations dished praise on the area on that first World Environment Day. Once the fair was over, the grounds were converted into the Riverfront Park we know and love today.

The U.S. Pavilion — or, at least, its basic structure — is still here, too. As is the State of Washington Pavilion. You know it today as the First Interstate Center for the Arts.

168 Years of World Fairs and Exhibitions

Sources: Bureau International des Expositions, Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, Eastern Washington University’s SpokaneHistorical.com, The Spokesman-Review files

All photos from The Spokesman-Review files.