The A-Y-P Started It All
Century 21 wasn’t our first go-round. The 1962 extravaganza was first conceived as an anniversary of Seattle’s first and smaller world’s fair, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909. On the Pay Streak midway at A-Y-P, a Baby Incubator Exhibit showed off preemies in new-fangled warmers, and the Igorrote Village exhibit allowed visitors to gawk at Filipino natives in thatched huts. “They were what we now think of as kind of politically incorrect,” says historian Paula Becker, coauthor of The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and Its Legacy. A-Y-P’s biggest legacy was less-cringeworthy: The fairgrounds shaped the then-tiny University of Washington campus.
• • • • • • • • • •Funding the Fair
Organizers solicited some 300 local businesses to collectively invest up to $3 million to help offset the overall cost—$69 million—of producing the fair. Backers were promised that an average of 55,000 people would pay to enter the fair each day, and that the investors would receive 40 cents of every ticket sold.
A February 1960 prospectus titled “Your Investment in Century 21” painted the v gision of a futuristic metropolis, a city to which global denizens would flock en masse, wallets perpetually open. The rhetoric ranged from promises of new factories (“…as numerous industrial firms are favorably exposed to the benefits of the Northwest for plant location”) to ideological missiles in the Cold War (“the benefits of our free enterprise system will be effectively displayed”).
By December 1960, the prospectus had succeeded; Joseph Gandy and the organizing committee had topped their $3 million goal—with $250,000 to spare.
• • • • • • • • • •The World’s Fair Committee
Joseph Gandy, a Ford dealership owner, would become fair director and the face of Century 21—newspaper columnists took to calling the expo Gandyland—but it was city council member Al Rochester who lit the first spark. Over martinis at the Washington Athletic Club in downtown Seattle in January 1955, Rochester, who’d drummed up business for the A-Y-P’s exotic dance shows as a boy, floated his idea for a grand 50-year anniversary to the chamber of commerce director and a Seattle Times reporter. By February, the governor of Washington had signed a bill creating a World Fair Commission and appointed hotelier Eddie Carlson as chair. “If you want to get an important job done, ask the busiest man in town,” the Times mused, after Carlson instituted regular 7am breakfast meetings of the committee. Carlson thought big: Before the year was up, plans were unfolding for a world’s fair and a new civic center. With the added brainpower of Gandy and general manager Ewen Dingwall—a former mayoral assistant—Rochester’s nostalgia-driven festival soon became the Century 21 Exposition, the fair of the future.
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Rearranging Seattle’s Traffic
With attendance predictions for the fair nearing 10 million, Century 21 shifted its congestion-coping brainstorming sessions into overdrive a year early; making visitors feel welcome was priority number one. “We must saturate this program with good old Western hospitality,” the expo’s vice president of transportation and parking, A. W. Morton, told The Seattle Times in April 1961. And aside from urging fairgoers to take public transit—like the flashy new monorail that flew above Fifth Avenue—that meant beefing up parking options for those who insisted on driving.
Expo organizers did find room for about 20,000 parking spots around the city, including the paved-over Interbay landfill, which cost more than $230,000 to convert. Booths were built to sell fair tickets, and buses would be on hand to ferry attendees to Seattle Center. Even pet care was available for those who couldn’t leave their dogs and cats at home.
Interbay could accommodate 5,000 cars, yet on opening day less than 100 fair-goers pulled in. Weeks later the fair’s general manager counted just nine cars in the lot. What happened? While Morton hadn’t overestimated the number of drivers, he had failed to consider the entrepreneurial spirit of local residents who paved their own private lots to make a buck. By July 4, Interbay shut down entirely, but not before parking one more vehicle: the Goodyear Blimp.