A Spokesman-Review 1967 story tells of Spokane’s first “public Christmas tree,” put up in 1879 at the California House hotel. It was for the first communitywide celebration by Spokane’s 300 city residents, the two companies of U.S. Army soldiers camped out here and approximately 500 Native Americans who lived around the city’s perimeter in tepees.
That first community tree was strung with strings of popcorn and cranberries. Apples were tied to the branches, along with shiny tins of preserved fruits. The Christmas committee even sent a team of horses and a wagon to Lewiston to procure treats and toys, if possible. They found no toys, but brought back a selection of upholstered food stools for the girls and a selection of tools for the boys.
At the 1879 celebration, Indigenous children sang carols they had learned from Jesuit priests.
Spokane’s public Christmas tree today is a large conifer in Riverfront Park draped in LED lights by volunteers. It was lit Nov. 26.
But during most of the 20th century, from the 1910s through the 1980s, a “public” Christmas tree has been erected and lighted many times at the intersection of Monroe and Riverside, in the name of charity, religious fervor and city beautification.
One of first such trees was put on display in 1915, sponsored by the Spokane Ad Club, part of the Chamber of Commerce. In the 1920s, the American Legion, a servicemen’s group greatly boosted in number by the veterans of World War I, did the honors with the goal of treating orphan children to a program of music and gifts around the tree on Christmas Day, or sometimes Christmas Eve. Using only donations, the group located an 80-foot tree and set it up using guy wires to steady it. The children were invited from the Crittenton Home, the Spokane Children’s Home and the Hutton Settlement.
In 1923, the American Legion worked with many volunteers to put up a tree. The line workers for the Home Telephone and Telegraph Co. volunteered to cut down and move the tree.
The Junior Chamber of Commerce and other businesses have pitched in over the years. The trees have ranged from 30 to 80 feet tall.
In 1960, the Spokane Nurserymen’s Association transplanted a live tree to the location and firefighters, using their ladder truck, volunteered to string the lights. It’s been called Spokane’s “year-round Christmas tree.” The last formal lighting of the tree was in the 1980s.
1960: Just after planting the live tree where only cut trees have been used for public holiday celelbrations, tree-decorating crews will start the big job of placing tinsel and lights on this 50-foot blue spruce set up in front of the Chamber of Commerce building on Riverside.
Present day: The large spruce near the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Monroe Street is part of the tradition of having a “public” Christmas tree in downtown Spokane, likely planted around 1960. From around 1915 or so, the corner has been the site of many tree lighting events and programs where orphans were invited for gifts and treats on Christmas or Christmas Eve.