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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Best way to honor a King? Spokane Park Board to hear plans for Expo ‘74 booster statue

Spokane park officials will consider Thursday how best to honor the civic booster recognized as the guiding force behind Expo ’74.

The Spokane Park Board will hear from a team including past park officials, politicians, journalists and fundraisers about a proposal to commemorate the work of King Cole in Riverfront Park ahead of the 50th anniversary of the world’s fair. While several features, including the renaming of the Howard Street promenade after Cole and placing signs telling the story of the park and its history, have the full backing of the committee, board members are scheduled to address whether a statue of Cole should also be erected within the park.

“We’re at the beginning of the process,” said Jennifer Ogden, president of the Spokane Park Board, likening the proposal the board will hear Thursday to a “skeleton” that artists will be able to “hang their ideas on.”

Cole was hired by the pro-business group Spokane Unlimited as its executive secretary in 1963, eventually building support from local industry leaders and politicians to tear down the railroad tracks in downtown Spokane to make way for the exposition in 1974. Then-Mayor David Rodgers would say in subsequent years that Cole was the “primary force” in bringing Expo ‘74 to Spokane, helping convince the railroads to make the land available and soliciting exhibitors from around the world for the space.

A plaque bearing Cole’s name and a sign designating the wooden bridge between the First Interstate Center for the Performing Arts and Havermale Island as “King Cole Way,” both installed in 2008, are the only lasting tributes to the man, and both those in favor and those skeptical of a statue agree more should be done. Cole died in 2010.

Hal McGlathery, who served as the manager of Riverfront Park from 1982 to 1996, has been vocal about the need for a statue to honor Cole. McGlathery, who has led campaigns to save the former IMAX theater that was torn down next to the U.S. Pavilion and the amusement rides beneath its canopy, said a statue would be a “crux” of the project.

“I would feel like we greatly diminished the prominent commemoration of King Cole,” McGlathery said, should the Park Board choose another option.

Chris Wright, a former Park Board president who’s assisted McGlathery in efforts to honor Cole in the park, said he’s not as attached to the idea of a statue as his colleague. Such a monument might be simpler to agree upon and build than other art pieces that could honor Cole’s contributions, but he said planners should not rule out other options that might be more interactive or unique to Spokane.

“For me, it has to be iconic,” Wright said. “Like the Pavilion, like the Clocktower. You know, you say, ‘I’ll meet you at the King Cole statue.’ ”

Such flourishes could include signs or other artistic elements, Wright added.

Wright said it is important for the appointed Park Board, which is responsible for making decisions about municipal parkland, to be involved in the process early. He noted that a previous piece of art had been proposed to go in Riverfront Park, a statue that was intended as a dedication to victims of war. But the project had already been designed and fundraising began before Park Board members had a chance to look at it. The sculpture was eventually approved for construction along the Centennial Trail instead.

“It was a good lesson: Don’t get in front of the Park Board,” Wright said.

McGlathery said he envisions a life-size statue that would depict Cole beckoning visitors into the park near the Pavilion. Visitors could stop and take a photo with the statue, or use smartphones to learn more about the man and the history of the area.

“Statues are enhanced by all the new communication technology,” he said.

The committee wants to unveil the features of the park in time for the 50th anniversary of opening of Expo ‘74, which will be May 2024, Wright said.

In order to raise the money necessary to build a statue, fundraising efforts should begin now, McGlathery said. He cited the three years of charitable collections that were needed to purchase and place the statue to Vietnam War veterans in the park.

“I just hope that somehow a statue becomes a part of the process,” he said.

Ogden said she believed the majority of the Park Board agreed that Cole deserved a larger recognition in Riverfront Park. What that would look like, she said, is still up for discussion. She added that there will be efforts to include the Spokane Tribe of Indians and other municipal leaders in the story of the fair’s golden anniversary.

“It was King Cole who said Spokane, we can do this,” she said.

The Spokane Park Board will hold its monthly meeting virtually at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Information on how to attend may be found on the Spokane Parks Department’s website.

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