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The Fair that Put Seattle on the Map

Adam Conley | Sep 5, 2012, 11:58 a.m.
Archival images courtesy of: Seattle Center Foundation, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle

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Meet Me At The Fair: Century 21 experts (l-r) Knute Berger and John Gordon Hill

The Seattle World’s Fair (April 21-Oct 21, 1962), otherwise known as Century 21, gave visitors a glimpse of the future and left Seattle with a lasting legacy. The exposition gave Seattle world-wide recognition, effectively “putting it on the map.” Some of the many stars who gave performances in Seattle that summer included Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Victor Borge, and Lawrence Welk. Among the well-known visitors were John Wayne, Jack Lemmon, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Carl Reiner, Carol Channing, George Burns, Walt Disney, John Glenn, and Lassie. Elvis Presley came to town to make the film “It Happened at the World’s Fair” turning heads and causing girls to shriek everywhere he went. [excerpted from HistoryLink.com by Alan J. Stein]. The Seattle Center is celebrating the 50th anniversary with special events through October 21.

I am a rare breed. Not only was I born in Seattle, all four of my grandparents were firmly ensconced in the city I’m proud to call home.

I count myself lucky to belong to a rare cohort of original Seattleites who not only love their city, but are fortunate to possess a sense of place and belonging that goes back a generation or two, with familial memories that tap deep into the 20th century.

The spirit of hope and promise that defined the Seattle boom of the late 19th century was grandly and elegantly expressed in the Alaska Yukon Exposition of 1909. Here, the potential of the greatest gateway city north of San Francisco declared itself to the world. It’s not by accident that the tallest building west of the Mississippi – the Smith Tower – was a grand Beaux-Arts affair that reigned supreme in Seattle’s historic downtown core from 1914 until the arrival of a new kid on the block, almost 50 years later.

That new kid on the block was, of course, our beloved Space Needle, the shining, aspirational beacon of the Century 21 World’s Fair—a symbol of hope for a better tomorrow ingeniously and architecturally expressed as a sky dream anchored in solid Seattle earth.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair, on August 17th, I had the good fortune of inviting two Seattle native sons to speak to a group of residents and members of the public at a free event held in the Bistro of Chateau Bothell Landing across the street from the Northshore Senior Center in downtown Bothell. The headliners were Knute Berger and John Gordon Hill.

Knute Berger can be heard Friday mornings at 10am on KUOW (94.9 FM) as one of the roundtable news of the week pundits. He is the Mossback Columnist for Crosscut.com, Editor-at-Large for Seattle Magazine, and former Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle.

John Gordon Hill is a local director and cinematographer most recently well known for putting together the Seattle World’s Fair documentary When Seattle Invented the Future that aired on PBS this spring. He has also produced hundreds of television commercials, TV episodes and documentaries on The Klondike Gold Rush and The Alaska Highway. He serves on the board at Cornish College of the Arts.

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