Western Spokane Historic Transportation Corridor

Of the eighty-seven ghost signs in the greater Spokane area, ninety percent are within two blocks of Sprague Avenue (once known as U.S.10) and the Northern Pacific Railroad, in an area known as the Western Spokane Historic Transportation Corridor. Commissioned in 1926, U.S. 10 was one of the first major highways to cross the northwestern states. Affectionately referred to as the Sunset Highway, the road crossed the Sunset Highway Bridge before entering the west side of town. From there the highway ran east-west through the middle of the downtown area, always within sight of the railroad line. Before the construction of I-90, the modern six-lane freeway that crosses the state, the vast majority of people and products coming in and out of Spokane used one of these two routes.

Many of the biggest businesses in Spokane sprouted up along the corridor where they had easy access to the rail line, and as the city rapidly expanded between 1890 and 1920 these businesses attracted many itinerant workingmen. It is no surprise, then, that the bulk of Spokane's ghost signs are found within a block or two of the Transportation Corridor, or that they mostly advertise single resident occupancy hotels (SROs), tobacco, cigars, or staple food items like flour or oats. Moreover, before the advent of large-scale outdoor signage or neon, businesses along the corridor identified themselves by name and logo in high-contrast hues. It all amounted to a surprising tableau of color in the industrial heart of Spokane, perhaps the least likely place.

U.S. 10 was decommissioned as the major route from Seattle to Spokane in 1969. Many of the ghost signs once astride the Transportation Corridor have faded, and others have been obscured by subsequent building. Others, however, are still visible, drawing the viewer's attention to "Blair Business College," "the Frederick Hotel," or "Washington Cracker Company." While U.S. 10 and the Northern Pacific are not the arteries they once were, these remaining ghost signs are a reminder of the rough-and-tumble beginnings of Spokane.