Nov 13, 2011

Was the Great Northern Station in Spokane worth fighting over?‏

The countdown begins for Expo 74, the World's Fair in 1974 in Spokane, Washington.
This building and the Union Station were part of the Riverfront Park when they put it up
to a levy vote in 1971. It got 56 percent yes but it needed 60 percent to pass. Then Expo 74
plan shows up with the stations removed from the plan. What happened?
Being in advertising and a railfan nut I got involved with saving these structures. I got the Spokane Ad Club involved
as you can see on the poster. We had about 35 of these posters made for the effort to save them as the theme for
Expo 74 was "Recycling" and reuseing buildings seemed to fit that theory so off I went to"fight city hall".
We lost the vote by a 43 to 57 so down they came.  The city did not play fair but what is new about that? They tore up
the marble floors and photgraphed the dirt lines in the concrete using the picture in a newspaper ad saying "Do you
really want to save this old thing?"  Here a carne is tearing out the boiler from the building to the east of the station.

Down she comes. Santa Clause came to the Ad Club Christmas party that year and had a gift for me.
It was a brick from the Great Northern station and didn't everyone have a big laugh when
he gave it to me. I paused for a moment and said to the crowd " I wasn't so much concerned
with the bricks ....but how they were arranged!" I can still get angry over this destruction. Jerry Quinn


  1. Jerry - I spent time in downtown Spokane for the first time in my life on Sunday/Monday, on the way back from a Milwaukee Road Historical Association convention. Part of the time there, I was trying to find out exactly where Union Station stood and some of the story of the destruction of that station and the GN station to make way for Expo 74. Thanks for your most informative posts. I know your name as I have seen many of your excellent GN photos, and appreciate your involvement and preservation of Spokane railway history. All the best.
    Frank Bucholtz, Surrey, B.C., Canada

    1. Hi Frank,
      The Union Station was just south of the GN tower where the large red wagon is now located. I did a blog on the Union Station as well. That's another horror story as there was a fire in the Union Station and the doors were locked when they arrived. Someone piled garbage against the wood doors and set fire to it. Everything was granite or marble but how does a fire start unless someone with am key did it? A buddy of mine told me 2 years ago that I was successful. I said successful...they tore the building down??? But, he said you made enough noise that St. Paul BN headquarters heard all the fuss about the stations that they saved the Tacoma, Livingston, Missoula and Helena stations because of it. Do you have proof? He said he knows and that was good enough for me as I would like to believe it. Want more railroad news? E-mail me at Jerry

  2. Are there any pictures of the interior of the GN station?

    Jon Nuxoll, Eugene, Oregon

  3. There was a big fight on to keep the station. But the city fathers at the time wanted everything new for the Expo. So the station was tore down and the clock tower was saved.

    1. Dear Anonymous, The original Riverfront Park plan got only 56 percent vote and they needed 60 for the money. They then went to the Expo plan and got a B&O tax that did not need the citizens vote. Both the GN and the Union stations were included in the Riverfront plan and were taken out of the Expo plan. When we put the vote on the ballot there was no saving of the tower until we had a voting measure. That was the city's fallback plan. I visited Sylvan Fullwiller, the city planner at the time and he told me that the Union Station's boilers were worn out and it would have been too expensive to replace. I took that back to the S.O.S. Committee and told them what I heard. The reply was Jerry they have no boilers, it is heated by the Washington Water Power steam generating plant in downtown, the double smoke stacks are still there. I was lied too, how you feel when someone pulls a trick lie like that? Fullwiller must have thought he was Obama!

  4. There are people who should swing from this tower, even if they have to be dug up (recycled)

  5. Jerry, I am a history prof at EWU and work with my students on a website and smartphone app for local history, May we use a couple of these pictures at our website the better to tell the story of the loss of the station? We would credit you of course.

    1. Larry, I have dozens of photos of both stations intact and in demolition stages. I am willing to share to keep their memory alive. Need me to make a class speech? 939-5845

  6. Hi Larry,
    Yes, use whatever you want to keep the history of the stations alive. Jerry Quinn

  7. I was 10 years old at the time, living in Spokane... and even I thought the destruction of the Great Northern depot and Union Station was a travesty. I remember the fight well -- I even remember the "Save Our Stations" billboards. I was a precocious kid, constantly reading the papers -- and I got the sense the preservation effort was laughed off by the folks who ran the city as a band of yappy malcontents, if really they thought about it at all.