Faces of the Fair

March 13, 2012 Published in the February 2012 issue of Seattle Met

Don Foster
International Exhibits

Then As a loaned executive from Frederick and Nelson department store, Don Foster joined the World’s Fair staff to help out for a year. One year turned to two and more as his job expanded to include responsibility for all foreign country exhibits. The skills he developed negotiating with the governments of Great Britain and Taiwan were later brought to bear in dealing with prominent artists such as Dale Chihuly and Morris Graves.

Now For 30 years, Foster owned and operated the iconic Foster/White gallery in Pioneer Square, launching the careers of many Northwest artists.

Jay Rockey Public Relations

Then When public relations director Jay Rockey saw the partly built Space Needle on the cover of Life magazine, he knew the fair would be big. Rockey secured a second Life cover in addition to multiple placements on the up-and-coming medium of television. Eighteen months earlier Rockey had been offered the position of public relations director when he stopped by the fair office to see his friend who held the job. Explaining that his friend had just quit, an apologetic receptionist suggested Rockey meet fair director Ewen Dingwall who insisted Rockey fill the post.

Now The Rockey Company grew to become the local benchmark for public -relations, with offices in Seattle, Portland, and Spokane.

Tomio Moriguchi Vendor

Then Tomio Moriguchi’s father Fujimatsu, patriarch of Uwajimaya Grocery, decided to open a 700-square-foot retail space at the fair. Cigarettes were the big seller, along with Japanese fans and other souvenirs. Sadly, Fujimatsu passed away that summer, but the experience of the fair opened the door to new markets and gave Tomio the impetus to leave his steady engineering job at Boeing to take over the family business.

Now Since 1962, Uwajimaya has expanded steadily, moving twice from storefronts on South Main Street to its current Uwajimaya Village. It is the largest Japanese American grocery in the Northwest, employing 400 people in four stores.

Gene Gentry McMahon Van de Kamp Girl

Then As the Van de Kamp Girl representing the well-loved Seattle bakery, dressed in a Dutch blue dress, white apron, and cap, Gene Gentry McMahon would climb a stairway to the top of a 25,000-pound fruitcake that towered above the Food Circus floor and slice off free samples to share with thousands of visitors passing through. She still wonders who snitched to her boss that she ate more than she handed out. The tattling wasn’t necessary, confesses McMahon, whose waistline grew by 20 pounds that summer.

Now A successful Seattle painter and art teacher, McMahon’s work includes a 10-by-35-foot enamel mural in the bus tunnel’s Westlake station.

Nils von Veh New Citizen

Then With the fairgrounds as a backdrop, Nils von Veh and his family were sworn in as American citizens on July 4, 1962. They had fled Austria over concern of Soviet expansion in 1957, the year of Sputnik. The Seattle Times captured the event, with a photo of his mother in her native Croatian dress, and the story is part of family lore.

Now The naturalization ceremony has been held on July 4 ever since at Seattle Center. Von Veh ran the Seven Gables movie theatres after serving as program director for KZAM radio.

Jeff Brotman Concession Worker

Then As a “worker bee” for his father Bernie, who ran the apparel sales concession at the fair, Jeff Brotman kept the retail kiosks buzzing and stocked with umbrellas and ponchos during the fair’s soggy first weeks. A UW student at the time, he would hook up after work with the employee organization, where he got to know workers from around the world and was inspired to see their countries for himself. On a trip years later Brotman encountered a European model of retailing—a combination discount supermarket and department store—and the idea of Costco was born.

Now Brotman opened the first Costco warehouse in Seattle in 1983. This year Costco expects to have 600 stores and do almost $100 billion in sales.

Ron Sher Bubbleator Operator

Then “Step to the rear of the sphere,” intoned Ron Sher, dressed in a Jetsons-style silver lamé uniform (below), as he guided an unending line of fair visitors into the popular Bubbleator. This spherical elevator of acrylic glass brought 100 passengers at a time through the Washington State Pavilion (now KeyArena) to the World of Tomorrow exhibit. Sher had come from Colorado, lured by the adventure of a summer job. What was worth a long wait for thousands became drudgery for a college student, and after just three weeks, Sher hung up his silver suit and headed to Alaska.

Now The developer of Crossroads Mall and Third Place Books, Sher works to create livable urban areas.

Stan McDonald Rickshaw Entrepreneur

Then A businessman with a knack for moving people, Stan McDonald imported a fleet of 20 bicycle-powered rickshaws from Taiwan, marking the first time these conveyances were ever used in North America. The pedicab reached stardom when Elvis’s costar Joan O’Brien pedaled the King in the film It Happened at the World’s Fair. McDonald’s idea for getting people to the fair via a floating hotel from San Francisco sparked plans for a new business venture.

Now In 1965, McDonald formed Princess Cruise Lines, which he expanded to become one of the largest cruise lines in the world.

George Tsutakawa Sculptor

Then Although his proposal for the International Fountain wasn’t chosen, George Tsutakawa was asked to design the commemorative medal for the fair. It was a demanding commission, requiring him to travel to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia where the medal was struck. A copy of the cast, its stylized 1950s design proclaiming “Space Age World’s Fair,” was later set within the Founders’ Court near Intiman Theatre. Fittingly, his son Gerry’s Fountain of Seseragi is located just steps away.

Now George Tsutakawa’s first fountain built for a public space, Fountain of Wisdom, is located in front of the downtown library. Gerry’s work includes the nine-foot high bronze mitt in front of Safeco Field.

Minoru Yamasaki Architect

Then In New York City, Seattle-born architect Minoru Yamasaki finished the architecture studies he started at the University of Washington. He shared his small apartment there, sheltering his parents from the internment forced upon Japanese Americans on the West Coast during World War II. Years later, Yamasaki earned the commission to design the U.S. Science Pavilion (now the Pacific Science Center). The graceful narrow gothic arches and serene plazas and fountains that came to define his work caught the eye of the New York Port Authority.

Now Beating out I. M. Pei and others, Yamasaki’s design was selected for the World Trade Towers and Plaza.

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