Spokane: Train Depot Swap For Worlds Fair

May Marks the 50th anniversary of Spokane's EXPO 74 which was constructed on the site of a former railyard. The international event had 5.2 million visitors and ran until November. The only remnant of the rail facility is the Great Northern clock tower (Creative Commons photo)

Community development progress was the buzz phrase in urban areas across the United States during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. For the railfan-community, it often translated into the loss of another historic landmark, a timeless treasure never to be replaced nor seldom put to re-use. Such was the story of Spokane Washington which once held claim to three architectural gems; today there is only one standing. Downtown re-development in Spokane was spurred by the dream of a 1974 Worlds Fair - an idea that became a reality.

Although the city of 400,000 was the smallest to ever host the event, it was none-the-less a success by nearly all criterion. Additionally it was the first worlds fair to promote an environmental theme. To what degree the fair raised Americans' consciousness is up for grabs, but the impact is still being felt a half century later. Perhaps the only loser in this story was railroad history that stood witness to the demolition of two of the city's three landmark trains stations.

Western Washington state and specifically Spokane had been served by five railroads which were the reason for Spokane's huge growth during the 1920s:

  • Great Northern and its Spokane, Portland & Seatle subsidiary used GN Station
  • Northern Pacific (which incidentally had been the first transcontinental railroad to reach Spokane) had its own station
  • Union Pacific shared its station with tenant Milwaukee Road

Even though travel by train had lost a major portion of its market by the early 1960s, several railroad flagships still stopped in Spokane, including GN's Empire Builder and Western Star, Milwaukee Road's Olympian Hiawatha, and NP's Mainstreeter and North Coast Limited.

Great Northern Station

Built in 1892, the GN station was situated on an island on the fringe of downtown Spokane. A major campaign was unsuccessful in saving the historic structure prior to develpment of the 1974 Worlds Fair. As a nod to history, the the GN clock tower was saved; it remains the tallest clock tower in the west. (Jerry Quinn photo)

GN's Empire Builder

Both sections of the westbound Empire Builder are poised to leave the station in downtown Spokane. SP&S F7A #804 will depart at 11:40 pm with train #1 to Portland, and GN SDP40 #330 will leave five minutes later with train #31 to Seattle. (Jerry Quinn photo)

Spokane Portland & Seattle Power

Prior to 1966, SP&S had not been a fan of six-axle diesel power; F-units were usually on the point of passenger trains. E7A #750 (depictted at Spokane) was the lone exception (Doug Wingfield photo)

Milwaukee Road Olympian Hiawatha

Milwaukee Road's Olympian Hiawatha passenger trains were routinely powered by Fairbanks, Morse & Co. Erie-Biults (such as 2000-hp #8 depicted here) during the 1950s and very early 1960s. (Creative Commons photo)

Union Station

Opened in 1914, the four-story Union Pacific Station was the city's most elegant and grandest. And its no coincidence that red brick and white sandstone structure was located immediately across the river and blocked the view of the rival GN station. UP and CMSP&P trains reached the downtown depot via a series of elevated tracks that crossed the Spokane River. (Photographer unknown; Streamliners Memories website)

Union Pacific - Mixed

UP E8As lead a six-car train through Marshall Canyon on 27 July 1968. The Official Guide identified this west-bounder as No. 19 (and No. 20 eastbound). Local fans, however, referred to the daily (except Sunday) mixed train as the "The City of Hinkle." On most days, the afternoon train was appreciably longer, and two 2250-hp cab units would be warranted. (Doug Wingfield photo)

Northern Pacific Station

The three-story NP Depot was build in 1890. A red and brown-brick structure, it was the second building to carry the name and to serve Spokane and surrounding areas. The Romanesque-style facility became the property of the newly created Burlington Northern in March 1970. (Photographer unknown; Streamliners Memories website)

NP'S Mainstreeter

EMD-built FP7 #6507 leads Northern Pacific's eastbound Mainstreeter through Marshall Valley on 27 July 1968. (Check-out the train order hoops and train order signal). Spokane Passengers are a short 15-minutes from de-training in the downtown area. (Doug Wingfield photo).

The Markers

This trip down memory lane closes with a photo of private business car Pointe Ste. Charles carrying the markers on Amtrak train #28, the Portland section of the eastbound Empire Builder, which has stopped in Spokane. (Patrick Weeden photo)

In addition to the Officials Guide of the 1950s and 60s, various on-line photo databases and publications were used to research the locomotives and trains appearing in this feature.
  • Great Northern - Color Pictorial by: Jospeh Shine
  • Northern Pacific Diesels by: Lorenz P Schrenk and Robert L. Frey
  • Spokane Portland & Seattle - Color Pictorial by: Todd Schwenk
  • Streamliner Memories website
  • Flickr.com
  • Rail Pictures Net
  • RR Pictures Archived Net
  • X2200 South (January 1968)
  • Green Frog Productions

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