Ice Harbor Lock and Dam looms as a picturesque landmark from Charbonneau Park, particularly at sunset.
The view wasn't quite the same on May 9, 1962, when Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson dedicated the Army Corps of Engineers project. Since then, it has provided river navigation, hydroelectric power, irrigation for farms and recreation.
Johnson, sheltered from spring showers by a canopy-covered platform, was joined at the ceremony by U.S. Sen. Warren G. Magnuson and Gov. Albert D. Rosellini. That dedication will be among the history retold during a public open house at 10 a.m. today.
The event will be special for one Walla Walla man who missed the original dedication but plans to attend this one.
Mike Dunham, owner of Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla, was 18 and a senior at Walla Walla High School when the vice president visited Walla Walla after the dedication.
Dunham, cadet colonel of the ROTC brigade, escorted Johnson during a stroll down Second Avenue to review the school's honor guard.
"He didn't say much and immediately headed toward the crowd," Dunham remembered.
Johnson soon returned and walked with Dunham while a light rain fell. Johnson wore a white overcoat, while Dunham was in full dress uniform at the vice president's right side.
Later, Johnson sent four signed photographs of himself with Dunham, and included a personal letter.
Dunham said the vice president accepted his invitation to come to Walla Walla after President John F. Kennedy was unable to attend.
"I was not at the dedication then, but I'll go to observe this time," he said.
Dunham also remembers that President Dwight D. Eisenhower came through Walla Walla in a motorcade for the dedication of McNary Lock and Dam on Sept. 23, 1954.
Today's anniversary celebration will be at the dam, just off Highway 124 at 2339 Monument Drive, Burbank. It begins at 10 a.m. with a speech by Col. Robert A. Tipton and music by the 204th Army Band from Vancouver. The public open house runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It took six years to build Ice Harbor Dam, which stands 130 feet above the stream bed and spans more than a half mile. It was the first of four dams built by the Corps along on the Snake River, a project developed from the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1945.
The dam contained three power units when Johnson dedicated it. Three larger units, which took five years to build, came on line in 1976. Their combined hydroelectric generating potential is 603 megawatts, and last year it produced 2.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity.
According to the Corps, the cost to build the dam, lock, powerhouse, six generating units and two fish ladders totaled $217 million.
Almost 40 additional miles of the Snake River became navigable because of the lock and dam, which also created a 32-mile long reservoir called Lake Sacajawea.
The lake has 80 miles of shoreline and 8,375 acres of surface area. The Corps reported the reservoir received 479,553 visitors in 2010.
Sacajawea is the name of the Indian woman who accompanied Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during the Corps of Discovery expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1804-06, and the lock and dam also have a historical namesake.
Sternwheeler riverboats that plied the Snake River in the 1860s and 1870s took winter refuge in an ice-free cove that came to be known as Ice Harbor. The cove remains visible on the south side of the river between the dam and Charbonneau Park.
Dunham, who remained in Walla Walla to work and raise a family, said he has been dismayed to read about people wanting to remove all four dams on the Snake River to restore the river's salmon fishery.
"I'm glad we have the dams. Our region has totally changed because of it," he said.
The Walla Walla Valley includes 140 wineries, many of them dependent on irrigation water provided by the dams, he said.
Darryll Olsen, executive director for the Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association, said Ice Harbor Lock and Dam has enriched the region tremendously.
"You can't ignore the size of the impact of irrigation from the Ice Harbor pool," Olsen said. "There are 60,000 acres of irrigation ag drawing from Ice Harbor. That translates into $190 million in statewide household income being generated every year.
"Then there's navigation, power production and flat-water recreation," he added.
Olsen claimed critics who say Snake River dams have hurt fish have failed to recognize that salmon numbers in recent years show positive results.
"From the return rates on key indicator stocks -- Snake River fall chinook -- it is clear that much of the impact of hydro has been mitigated or even enhanced," Olsen said.
"The Corps deserves a lot of credit because the Snake River system has some of the highest fish returns on the West Coast," he added.
"To people who say the Ice Harbor Dam is a mistake for fish, I say we should be so lucky to have more mistakes like Ice Harbor," Olsen said.