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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Let the festivities begin’: Spokane leaders kick-start 50th anniversary of Expo ‘74

Using the same giant scissors President Richard Nixon used 50 years ago to open Expo ’74, Mayor Lisa Brown and City Council President Betsy Wilkerson cut a purple ribbon to kick off the 50th anniversary of the international event Saturday night at the U.S. Pavilion.

“Let the festivities begin,” Brown said minutes earlier to a crowd at the Pavilion.

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the world’s fair in Spokane – the smallest city to host the fair at the time – and the start of a two-month celebration of Expo ’74. The public is invited to well more than 100 events through July 4 throughout the Spokane area to celebrate.

Spokane County Commissioner Josh Kerns encouraged people to visit one such event at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture where they can explore an “incredible collection” of Expo ’74 memorabilia.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will be coming down to Riverfront Park and downtown Spokane to celebrate, whether that’s through sharing memories, creating new ones or discovering what Expo ’74 was all about,” Kerns told the crowd.

Brown said she was in high school when she first heard of Spokane in 1974 because of the fair.

She said Spokane has undergone “significant transformation” in 50 years, including new infrastructure, economic growth and a renewed focus on sustainability.

One of the most notable changes, Brown said, was the revitalization of Riverfront Park, which Wilkerson also acknowledged.

“We stand in a beautiful park that was converted from old railroads, which did provide economic development for the city, but it was polluting our rivers and destroying the livelihoods of our native brothers and sisters,” Wilkerson said.

Several people raised their hand when Brown asked how many people attended Expo ’74, and even more raised their hands and yelled when she asked who did not attend.

“Whether you are here to reminisce or explore for the first time, I hope you will join me in acknowledging how far we’ve come and looking forward to the possibilities that come ahead,” Brown said.

Wilkerson said she worked at Expo ’74, which was centered on the environment and sustainability.

The late King Cole was known as “The Father of Expo ’74,” for bringing the fair to life and revitalizing the heart of downtown. Three of Cole’s family members, as well as the other speakers, helped cut the ribbon with small scissors.

“The fruits that we are enjoying were once the seeds of visionaries like King Cole and even Sammy Davis Jr., who was the co-chair of the African American exhibit at Expo ’74,” Wilkerson said.

The opening ceremonies started with a “pillar procession,” as local organizations paraded through the U.S. Pavilion before settling next to the stage of speakers.

The anniversary highlights five pillars, including Expo legacy, environmental stewardship, tribal culture, recreation and sport, and arts and culture.

Spokane Riverkeeper, Spokane Velocity, Spokane Chinese Association and Spokane Lilac Festival Association were some of the many groups that took part in the procession.

“Fifty years ago, Spokane dared to dream big,” Brown said. “The Expo ’74 celebration marked a defining moment in our city’s history.”