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Then and Now: Berlin Wall in Spokane

Capitalism, a jazz musician and the Cold War came together to shut down Main Avenue in downtown Spokane and advance free enterprise in 1962.

Don W. Eagle and Paul E. Carter of the Advertising and Sales Association of Spokane made their pitch to the Spokane City Council. The association wanted to build a symbolic Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie across Main Avenue. National Guardsmen would be stationed at the checkpoint, but traffic would be allowed to flow freely. The City Council gave the OK.

After World War II, the Soviet Union and the Allies had split Germany in two, with the U.S., Britain and France taking the western half. The two blocs also split the capital city of Berlin, which sat deep in East German territory. After initially trying to block the Allies’ land access to the city and forcing the U.S. to try and supply the city with the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and 1949, Soviet authorities finally relented. For decades, the wall split the city in half, with Checkpoint Charlie being the only way in or out, until the wall came down in 1989.

Eagle, a local booster, was best known as a musician. After attending Gonzaga University in the 1930s, he headed to California and worked with some of the musical greats of the era, including Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Paul Whiteman and Glenn Miller. He appeared with Bing Crosby in three movies. Returning to Spokane in the 1950s, he went into advertising and entertained with his band at Spokane clubs and hotels for almost 40 years. He died in 1996.

A chest-high barricade of concrete blocks was set up Wednesday, May 9, and stayed up until Friday, May 11. Replica signs read “Achtung! You are leaving the Western Zone.” National Guard soldiers staffed the checkpoint and handed out cards explaining the project to drivers who passed through.

On Friday evening, Guardsmen used a tank to ram the stacked blocks. Eagle said, “Crashing the wall was symbolic of the fact that barriers have no place in a free economy.”

The Spokane Advertising and Sales Association is now called the American Advertising Federation Spokane.

Correction: Don W. Eagle, an advertising executive associated with the Spokane Chronicle was not the same Don Eagle who entertained as a jazz musician for many years. Due to a reporter’s error, the two were conflated in this story.