People's Park

Expo '74 and Riverfront Park

Once an Indian winter camp, this area where Hangman Creek (Latah Creek) and the Spokane River merge has been a popular site for campers, transients, and picnickers. According to Curly Jim, from the Spokane Tribe and early friend of the whites who settled in Spokane, "I was born on the west side of Latah (Hangman) Creek, near its mouth, and I have lived about here all of my life." Until recently there was a salmon trap on Latah Creek.

For many years this section of High Bridge Park was unused. The city acquired the land in 1913 and two years later began the discussion to put a dam to hold back Latah Creek and create an area for recreational use including ice skating and boating. The dam discussion would continue through present day.

Housing was built on parts of the property throughout the history of Spokane. The West Grove Addition (1910), federal housing for veterans (1940s and 1950s), and the Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge all were a part of the history of this area.

The land was used as an illegal dumping site until planning for the World's Fair in 1974. The City of Spokane wanted a space for young people and families who could not afford hotel fare but wanted to come to Expo '74, thus People's Park was born. Part of the planning for Expo included the removal of several railroads. The Northern Pacific Rail bridge was partially removed in preparation for Expo but the remainder was removed in 1979.

The city designated the High Bridge Park peninsula (People's Park) as a free campsite for low-budget Expo '74 visitors and installed toilets, showers, and a mobile home police headquarters. The plan was to keep transient population from going into other parks in Spokane. The first week visitors numbered from 30-40 people and soon the population rose to 400. The park's population peaked at 5,500 in August 1974 and a full time nurse is brought in to handle assorted medical issues. Articles ran in the Spokane Daily Chronicle chronicling daily life in the camp. Not all reports were bad, most talked about the art fairs, lack of violence, and "alternative lifestyles." September and October of 1974 showed a decline in visitors and by November 3, 1974 the park is officially closed to campers.

Campers did not stay away from People's Park. In fact, the park became infamous for the nude beach and nude sunbathing. Hippies, yippies, drug users, nudists, and communal living all became part of the story of People's Park.


Peoples Park
Audio - Ed Ellefsen, former park employee, Images courtesy of the Washington State Digital Archives, Cheney, WA, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library, Spokane, WA,
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Interview with Ed Ellefsen
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