Document 62: Improving Spokane's River Area

L. J. Pospisil, “Suggested Improvements in Downtown Spokane’s River Area,” 23 July 1952,” Spokane Chamber of Commerce Papers, Box N,
Eastern Washington State Historical Society.

Return to Document Index

103 W. 17th Avenue
Spokane 9, Washington.
July 23, 1952


The notes set down herein deal with matters grouped under the above heading and it is hoped that their review and further consideration by a limited number of experienced and civic minded citizens will result in some sound appraisal as to the worth and timeliness of the ideas advanced. The section of the river dealt with is roughly between Division and Monroe streets. . . .

As the area was platted into a townsite the presence of channels and islands made it difficult to lay out a satisfactory arrangement of streets. The coming of the Great Northern Railway with fixed bridges over two channels and a passenger depot with needed additional tracks preempted certain areas and imposed limitations on the width and grade of at least one important street. The coming of the Milwaukee and Union Pacific Railways along and to the north of Trent Avenue added another passenger depot to the two principal ones then existing.

The series of channels and islands that originally existed here and largely continues to the present is far from an attractive one during a considerable portion of each year. Due mainly to rapid melting of accumulated snow over a large drainage area an annual flood results which has excavated the various channels here during past ages and which are needed for the passage of these floods when the come.

During the flood period of each year the large volume of water passing over the dam near the center of the city presents a very attractive picture in which the people have taken much pride and which has been widely publicised. But when the river flow diminishes to a rate less than that required by the hydroelectric units that convert the energy inherent in the passing water into useful and needed electrical energy, there are no “falls” and the channels present an unattractive if not disagreeable appearance. . . .

It is here advanced that as regards the north or flood channels are concerned, the river at all rates of flow can be confined within a closed and covered conduit from about Washington street to just above Bridge avenue to the forebay from which water is diverted to the Monroe Street station of the Washington Water Power Co. The dimensions of such a conduit would not necessarily be very large as enough head is available to speed up the water to any velocity that would be deemed practical. As this velocity would be relatively high so the cross-sectional area would be proportionally smaller. The maximum flood that has passed down the river in Spokane since records have been kept is rated at about 50,000 cubic feet per second and all this passed through the three arched openings of the Washington Street bridge. . . .

The lower end would terminate in a moderate sized surge chamber at the intake to the penstock that leads to the Upper Falls power station. The sole function of the south channel now is the conveyance of water to the Upper Falls station, it has a large surface area and has necessitated the construction of three bridges for its crossing. The conduit replacing it might have a horizontal dimension of 20–24 feet and its top could be at any desired elevation. Such a disposition would make available a large area in a location where square footage values are relatively high. Parallel to and adjacent to the conduit would be a large open space — below an adopted grade or floor that could be so trimmed and roofed so as to be available for storage, car parking space, or other similar uses. Above the grade structures of any desired type or use could also be erected. . . .

One feature of the situation is that some of the land that would be involved is privately owned and some of it under leases that run for various periods. Most of the privately owned land is in the low or no income class and might be optioned or purchased at moderate cost if this is done in a quiet way. . . .

It might be stated incidentally that in the past decade Spokane has made much progress in having a number of permanent industries established here with increase in population, payrolls, and the increasing benefits from the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project still to come. It should be timely to give consideration to what is here discussed.

This is a rather hasty and incomplete presentation. In considering its execution many problems and difficulties readily come to mind. But it is hoped it will serve the purpose of a “thought starter” and receive the consideration of able civic minded men whose joint views and conclusions should result in a sound appraisal.

L. J. Pospisil

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest