LAST OCTOBER, THE SEATTLE CENTER FOUNDATION HOSTED A KICKOFF party for The Future Remembered, a new book commemorating the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, and for the Next 50, the six month-long anniversary party beginning this April. In the lobby of the Intiman Playhouse, models in vintage Space Needle uniforms dotted the crowd, which included the authors Paula Becker, Alan J. Stein, and their collaborators from historylink.org; Seattle Center Foundation staff; and touchingly, a smattering of the original fair organizers or their surviving family members.
That day, and at every turn as Seattle Met’s team of editors worked on this month’s commemorative issue, it was impossible to escape the upwellings of pride and emotion felt by everyone who shaped the fair from its let’s-put-on-a-show beginnings to its lasting impact on our city and on the 10 million visitors to the fair. (My personal memories: the Bubbleator ride, a felt trilby hat machine-embroidered with my name, and oh, the Belgian waffles—see The Belgian Waffle Invasion and Met List: Belgian Waffles).
The story of the fair and its legacy are genuinely the stuff of Seattle legend. By all accounts, the 1962 World’s Fair represents a moment when our civic leaders joined in a soaring shared vision for Seattle’s future. Conceived as a golden anniversary for Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909, the fair brought together prominent businessmen (yes, folks, they were all men—it was the ’50s), the mayor and city council, the state legislature, a committee of cultural champions, tourism leaders, and a city chock-full of boosters.
World’s Fairs, expos, Olympics—all are opportunities for cities to spend a lot of money building venues, attracting tourists, and cleaning up blighted areas. And for draining civic coffers and leaving rusting carcasses of useless structures behind (see: New York’s 1964 World’s Fair). Seattle’s fair, by contrast, ran a profit and was one of the few with a lasting legacy: a sports arena, world-class arts groups, and never again having to explain where to find Seattle on the map.
Now, 50 years on, the Seattle Center Foundation is planning six months of events, lectures, and parties to coincide with the dates of the original fair. From April 21 to October 21 organizers will herald what they’re calling the Next 50, aspiring once again to propel the city into a new era of greater glory. As satisfying as it was for our writers to reminisce about the city’s past, we got even more excited envisioning what our city could become.
In some ways, it’s hard to imagine the players who might join Seattle’s next leap into the future, especially at a time when the city still smarts from the viaduct-tunnel wars. Our present-day industry magnates play on a global stage and accomplish much more by making their civic contributions in grand solo gestures. Jeff Bezos pumps up the Museum of History and Industry with a $10 million contribution for an innovation center. The Gates Foundation sites its shiny campus alongside Seattle Center. Paul Allen’s Vulcan transforms South Lake Union into office buildings, condos, and a slew of destination restaurants.
But, thanks to the spotlight provided by Seattle Center planners, this big birthday party is showing signs of a collective response. When we invited Peter Steinbrueck, the architect whose father, Victor, contributed to the Space Needle design, to imagine what an iconic structure would look like if the fair were held today, he sketched a waterfront complex that would both glorify our marine setting and overshadow that famous Needle. And restaurant mogul Tom Douglas came up with a high-tech seafood snack to rival Belgian waffles. We also asked innovators in sustainable living, transportation, and health care to dream 50 years into the future. Their ideas may sound like science fiction, but any geek Seattleite will understand that they are genuinely possible.
This issue represents months of research and work by the entire Seattle Met staff, led by editors James Ross Gardner and Allison Williams and design director André Mora. All of us owe gratitude to the authors and photo researchers of The Future Remembered and to our partners at Seattle Center’s Next 50 project, who graciously responded to our endless phone calls and requests for information.
One conversation with Marc Jones, Seattle Center’s director of marketing, has stayed with me. When I wondered aloud whether Seattle still has the kind of collaborative spirit that gave rise to the fair 50 years ago, he reminded me that city council member Al Rochester enlisted support for the 1962 fair over martinis at the Washington Athletic Club with the chamber of commerce director, and yes, a journalist. As we dedicate this issue to the grand Seattle vision that launched a World’s Fair and, with it, a world-class city, we pose the question: Who is going to come together on the next 50? As Marc said that day, this time “it’s up to us.”