Document 75: Tom Adkison Interview

Tom Adkison [interview with Sean Elwood], 8 April 1975, Expo’74 Transcripts, Eastern Washington State Historical Society.

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This is an interview with Mr. Tom Adkinson recorded on April 8, 1975 in Mr. Adkinson's office in the Sherwood Building by Sean H. Elwood.

ELLWOOD: When were you hired by Expo '74 and in what capacity?

ADKINSON: I was hired, Sean, June 15, 1971, as the Executive Architect and Primary Site Planner for Expo '74 by the Corporation. . . .

ELLWOOD: OK, how would you define the attitudes towards the goals of the Corporation, first of all what were the goals of Expo '74? Where [sic] they met? What were the attitudes of the Corporation towards the goals?

ADKINSON: Yeah. Well, I am reminded of this remark attributed to the guy at General Motors that “what's good for General Motors is good for the country”, or vice versa. I'm not sure I'd subscribe whole hog to that but I believe that the goals of the Expo Corporation were to provide a stimulus for an increased business activity and consequent health for Spokane.

ELLWOOD: How did the theme work into that?

ADKINSON: The theme was—there was a calculated risk taken on the theme—man living and playing in harmony with the environment. We say these things now, we don't feel uncomfortable about it; but, 4 or 5 years ago, in 1970, when themes were spoken of, that was a pretty edgy proposition. It's pretty hard to excite people by telling them what bad citizens they've been and this was really part of the problem with that theme. The goal, the primary goal, of renovating this crucial area of the urban scene was attained. To attain that, there were a number of sub-goals, economics was one, environment was one, the merchandising of it, seeing to it that people got there and they paid their bills, all these are sub-goals. I don't know that all were met equally well, I'm quite certain they weren't. It's a rare fair that's made any money. Certainly the main goal this Expo had was achieved; to rejuvenate this area of the city and to stimulate an economic base in the City, that came off. One of my disappointments is, two things: the achievement of the arts and, I'll say, the environmentalists. These were two sub-goals that I believe did not find an optimum expression compared to the role they could have played. The reason is, my instincts tell me, that it isn't anything lofty or no one dropped the ball, it's pure economics; art is not as popular as something else. You just don't make ends meet on art at an economic base. Environmentally, I regret that this was not more of a learning process, a process of appreciation of some of the environmental problems that confront us. I think we turned our back on them, we pushed them under the rug, we could have done much more there. It isn't a particularly popular topic, not a money-making topic, you don't make money telling people how badly they have done, so these are two regrets. I don't know how I would have structured it differently. I don't really know that this was the point in time that it could have come off differently.

ELLWOOD: Well, if somebody came to you planning a world's fair now, with your experience in this one, what things would you suggest to them? What important things?

ADKINSON: Real big question, Sean, and I don't want to be evasive. To the point, you've got have a noble idea, a good reason for having a world's fair, or any other fair. You can't do it just because seombody [sic] is going to make some money off it; you can't do it do it [sic] out of love of apple pie and the American flag. There has to be good reason, absolutely pure reason behind it.

The good reason here was to clean up that area of the riverfront and by cleaning it up, extend this influence throughout the length of the river. So first instance you've got to have a good reason, it can't be just to make a buck. Then, I believe, reliance on local help, the local architects, the local artists, the local businessman, is fundamental.

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest