Locals’ Seattle Center Memories

Our city’s civic gathering place has played host to many memorable and poignant moments. Here are a

By Seattle Mag


January 12, 2012

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Marie McCaffrey
Executive director, HistoryLink.org

I was 11 in 1962 and went to the fair at least twice. You can see the proof in these pictures (above). One is in the world’s fair photo booth. I clearly remember the smell and the taste of the Belgian waffle, which made such an indelible impression on everyone. I remember going up the moving ramp and taking the monorail, the home of the future and the many rides. The fair had a huge impact on me, which continued throughout my life.

Rick Steves
Travel expert and author of Europe Through the Back Door

I was 7 years old when the world came to Seattle. From my perspective, faraway foreign wonders were beyond my reach—and suddenly they came here. My sisters and I flashed a “Welcome to Seattle” sign from our car whenever we saw an out-of-state license plate. My grandma opened up a B&B to accommodate visitors. My dad’s best friend made enough money to buy a yacht he called The Windfall by designing and selling a “Space Needle Cigarette Lighter.” And, for me, the highlight was my grandfather buying me a Belgian waffle. Perhaps it was indulging in such a wondrous and decadent treat [that] got me thinking that I should give the world outside my immediate neighborhood a better look.

Jeffrey Wright
Chairman, the space needle

(In 1961, Wright’s father took him up in the construction elevator of the Space Needle while it was being built. Here, he recalls that experience.)
To a four-year old, the elevator seemed like it had cyclone fencing siding. It was scary! So, riding up in the elevator, I put my arms around my dad’s legs and just held on. I was scared to death! Then someone said, “Let the little guy get to the front.” I didn’t want to go to the front. I went to the back. So, we got up to the restaurant level, which at that time was the top level. The floor wasn’t 100 percent in yet. I really wanted to look over the edge but I was so scared. So I laid down and crawled over, and my dad held onto my ankles and sort of grounded me. And I think of that now, as chairman of the Space Needle, as my original Space Needle experience.

Dale Chihuly
Glass artist

I have fond memories of the 1962 World’s Fair and remember thinking that the Space Needle was the coolest building I’d ever seen.

Nicole Brodeur
Columnist, The Seattle Times

My favorite visit to the Needle was in 2004, when Alain Reix, then the “chef directeur” of Le Jules Verne, the restaurant at the second level of the Eiffel Tower, was in Seattle. Reix was in Seattle as a guest of the Fairmont Olympic, designing a romantic Valentine’s Day menu. But I have to say—Reix left his heart at the top of the Space Needle. It was a clear day. No fog, no clouds and Mount Rainier out in all its jagged, white glory. “C’est superb,” Reix told me as we stood on the Observation Deck. “I knew there was a tower here, but not that it was so interesting. Paris is in the middle of France and here, we’re on the seaside. With the mountains and the sea, it’s so beautiful. They’ve got a lot of green spaces around the Eiffel Tower, but it’s not this.” Before long, word spread up and down the Needle that Reix was at the top. The executive chef of SkyCity appeared, eager to give Reix a tour of his kitchen—another tiny space where big meals are made. Told that the dining room rotated, Reix paused, then put one foot out, as if on the moon. “It can’t be easy for the waiters,” Reix said, looking up and down the room. “They come out of the kitchen and don’t know where their tables went!” He left with a chef’s jacket and a great memory. And Seattle, well, we got some bragging rights.

Jean Enersen
News anchor, King-5 News

I remember the outrage over building the Space Needle…criticisms like “Isn’t that a weird design?” and “Why change the skyline?” But look at it now: the most recognized architectural symbol of our city, the backdrop for Jay Leno’s TV show and a big tourist attraction. Then there was the whole notion that having a big world’s fair in little Seattle was a stretch. But Seattle thought big, and now look at us: gateway to Asia and a major center for entrepreneurs, world trade, tourism, science and philanthropy.

Gary Locke
U.S. Ambassador to China; Governor of Washington, 1997-2005

I remember watching the Space Needle slowly being erected from the windows of my sixth-grade classroom at the old Beacon Hill Elementary School, more than five miles away. Because of the many hills of Seattle, we could only see the construction of the upper half. But what a sight it was! The legs curving back out before the restaurant and top were added…I was so captivated that I had to go buy a wooden model of the Needle which I assembled and painted. And then to actually see it up close and ride to the top when the fair opened was icing on the cake. I still enjoy taking visitors up to the observation deck on a clear day.

Louis Larsen, World’s Fair special events director, with Sandra; Credit: Courtesy of Louis Larsen

Louis Larsen
1962 World’s Fair special–events director

For one of our publicity events, we wanted to have a chimp from Seattle invite Enos, the chimp that went into space, to the fair. After talking to staff at the Woodland Park Zoo, it was decided that most of the chimps there were too aggressive. As a substitute, we used one of their orangutans, named Sandra. When we got Sandra (shown above) to the fair and tried to get her to put a ticket into an envelope to send to Enos, she immediately ate the ticket instead. Later, for the Nordic Festival in 1969, we arranged a ski jump off the Coliseum (now KeyArena). It was done without any permits and it drew 50,000 people on a Sunday. But, I had a personal relationship with Seattle Center long before I had a professional one. In 1947, I met my wife at the Civic Auditorium during the Norwegian Independence Day Dance. 

Rich Marriott
Meteorologist, King-5 News

I wasn’t living in Seattle for the World’s Fair; however, the Seattle Center played a pivotal role in my life. My very first visit to Seattle was in June 1971, when I came up from UCLA to give a research paper at an international conference being held at the Seattle Center. It had only been nine years since the World’s Fair, and much of it was still the original equipment! I fell in love with the center and still remember lounging around the International Fountain listening to the music. And who could forget the Bubbleator in the Food Circus? But the really important part of my visit was meeting my first wife, who was working at the conference. Today, even with all of the changes over the years (both for the center and for me), it is always a special place to visit. 

Lin & Bob Peggs

In December 1966, a month or so after my wife Lin and I were married, we had a visit from England with my best man, Ron. We lived above the Freeway on Melrose Avenue between John and Thomas Streets, in a 400+ square foot apartment with a great view of the Space Needle and the Olympics. Ron was staying with us in our small apartment and the first evening I wanted to make Ron feel important. I pretended to make a phone call to the Space Needle and tell them that a “Very Important Person” was in town and could they honor him by lighting the flame at the top of the Space Needle at 9 p.m. exactly? They did – and Ron was extremely impressed. We drew the curtains then. The next evening we left the curtains open and – lo and behold! – the Needle lit up at 7 p.m. Ron was still not quite sure, but when it came on again at 8 p.m., he guessed what was going on. We will always remember this story of our great friend Ron, who unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago. 

Michelle Cougan

My twin sister and I celebrated our sixth birthday by going to Seattle World’s Fair that opened a week earlier. We drove down there in our brand new 1962 Ford Falcon wearing our new birthday dresses; hers in blue and mine in purple. At the fair we got cotton candy and were thrilled that it was offered in the same colors of our dresses! I still think about that every time I pass by the Seattle Center.

Tom & Patty Walton
West Seattle

My wife and I both turned 50 this past December, with Patty’s Birthday 17 December and my Birthday 9 December. We had been thinking and looking all around Seattle for a venue for most of 2011 to host some sort of get together. We stumbled upon the 50th Anniversary material for the Seattle Center and we began considering hosting a group of friends in the rotating restaurant on top of the Space Needle. Now, normally we would shudder at the thought of dining in the touristy “revolving restaurant” at the top of the Needle, having only been there once way back in 1987, but then after researching exactly when The Space Needle was “born”, or completed construction, we found that a major Space Needle milestone occurred just the day before Tom was born on 9 December 1961 [an American flag was flown from the top of the Space Needle to mark the completion of its highest point.] So we pretty much decided right then and there “yeah, that’s definitely it!” After all, the Space Needle was sort of celebrating its 50th Birthday with us. So we reserved a table for 9 and the food and experience (not to mention the view of course!) was so good my wife and I will definitely return soon, and we won’t be waiting until our next big important Birthday in 2061.

An official Space Needle beanie. Photo by Hayley Young

Lee Evan Belfiglio

Bellevue, WA

I have been enjoying all the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair and I can hardly believe it has been 50 years since I attended as a child. One of my favorite memories is of the fun souvenir hats everyone wore. 

Terry McNichols
I was 14 when my family came from Kalispell, Montana to visit the Seattle World’s Fair. We went to a Billy Graham crusade at Key Arena, I assume, and then saw him when we ate dinner or lunch in the Space Needle restaurant. My younger brother went up to his table and got his [autograph] on a napkin. My family was not wealthy and this was one of two family vacations that I can recall. They must have really splurged to come and even to eat in the Needle!  There were 5 children in the family and my 16-year-old sister was miserable at being away from her boyfriend and wasn’t very much fun!  I think my parents wished they had left her home! There was a ride in the rides section that was a wooden chute. You climbed up a staircase and then sat on a piece of carpet or cardboard and slid down the chute. I managed to slide along the side of the chute and I still have a scar, albeit very faded, where I skinned myself.  I was taken to the First Aid Station and patched up.  

Bill Krabler
I have read and reread the article on Seattle’s World’s Fair and was surprised at the connectedness I felt with that particular time of my life and my involvement with the Fair. I was a student in Communications and Advertising at the UW. I was also working with Robert N. Ward, the creative force behind Paradise International (Gracie Hansen’s venue) and, shortly thereafter with Kraft, Smith and Lowe, the advertising agency that had as an account the Seattle World’s Fair. I remember working with Ward and, mostly waiting for his 3 martini lunches to end, working on press releases for all his accounts.  We worked with Gracie Hansen after the fair also (at Ocean Shores), working on her playing with the audiences to create a great show. Kraft, Smith and Lowe brought Jay Rockey out here from the East Coast to work on the Fair. I had a great relationship with Jay and was fortunate to work with him until just before his retirement.  There were no greater PR people in the Northwest than Jay Rockey and Hugh Smith (of Kraft, Smith….) fame. Part of Kraft/Smith’s task was to help Elvis along on his journey with the Fair. He spent time hiding with the Kraft/Smith group and some of my fellow workers got to know him fairly well.  He was, however, fairly shy. But my most remembered experience was with a Flamenco group from Espana. Ramon Reyes and his troupe played at a small restaurant on Marion between 3rd and 4th Street.  I had a photography assignment for a class at the UW, using a twin lens reflex camera and available light.  I talked with the troupe and they had no problem with me doing so (as long as they had access to the prints).  I shot two roles of 36 shots and then ran out of film.  I ran out into the rain and got three more rolls of film.  Then I finished the shooting.   The next day I developed them for my class and went back to the troupe, showing them my pictures.  They loved them and I printed up a set for them.  I have one print that is framed, hanging on my wall (I lost the others) of Ramon de los Reyes. Another connection the article reminded me of is that my father was a bell boy, along with Edward Carlson at the Vance Hotel. Small world isn’t it? 

A scene from It Happened at the World’s Fair, starring Elvis Presley

Barbara Thomas Burgener
Olympia, Wa

I have a great memory of the Seattle World Fair. In 1962 I was just 10 years old. Born in Seattle my family had moved to Yakima for my father’s job as a Chevy dealership sales manager. Our family of six was very excited to head to the fair. The Space Needle was so cool and you had such a great view of all the great sites like the ferries, the lakes and of course Mt. Rainier. There was a big parade with a full marching band. There was a handsome guy leading the marching band and lots of movie cameras. My mother was all goofy acting and started screaming Elvis…Elvis! Now my mom was pretty nice looking with her summer tan, wrap around sunglasses and yellow polka dot sun dress. Some guy came over and put her in the front of the crowd said you can’t scream Elvis but you can cheer the band. Since my brother who was 8 and I were with her we got to be in the movie, too. You can see my mom and the top of my head if you look close in the marching band scene in It Happened at the World’s Fair. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how cool Elvis was and how really cool my mother was. It’s still one of the Thomas family favorites. My mom [a retired food editor for the Yakima Herald Republic] turn 90 this Friday and she still looks hot. 

Sharon Friel
Seattle, WA

I seem to be a ‘relic’ like the Space Needle because my distinction was being one of the few women managers. I was 22 (but we many of us were really young, because we hadn’t really settled into our careers yet), and was hired to be the assistant to a man who was the manager of the Press Headquarters.  Early on, he did not work out, and I was given his job! I had eight young male press aides working for me, was expected to work 7 days a week –  and to complicate things, was dating Dick Friel, who had just started an advertising agency: Skogland, Friel, Willey and Ware. It was exhilarating and exhausting (I lost two dress sizes and didn’t know it – and during the last months I was getting Vitamin B shots.) My Elvis story (and I have told this to a few people), is that a client of Dick’s assigned him to make sure that Col Parker (Elvis’s manager) and Elvis were accommodated while in the city and on the fairgrounds, while they were filming It Happened at the World’s Fair. You have to remember that security was a fraction of what it is today for celebrities. Anyway, Dick was in a golf cart with Parker, Elvis, a driver and another person, crossing the fairgrounds. When some of the fair crowd saw Elvis, they rushed the cart and almost pushed it over. When Dick picked me up from work, he told me that he’d almost died….but realized the headline would read: “HANDSOME AD MAN DIES WITH ELVIS“. My good fortune, in addition to meeting Dick Friel, was taking Emmett Watson on a tour of the Fairgrounds. I was a real fan of his column in the Seattle P-I.  He didn’t want one of my press aides to tour him, he was interested in my perspective.  It was my lucky day.  At the conclusion of the Fair, he offered me a job as his assistant at the P-I.  We worked together and became life-long friends.

Judy (Jessup) Herrmann
Duvall, WA

I am eager to share my unique experiences in selling World’s Fair advance tickets in two different settings, at age 17 no less, as well as supervising Monorail ticket sales and World’s Fair Trade Dollar sales once the fair opened.  At the very beginning, I was the only one with the job of selling advance tickets which started at a small table inside the main door of Frederick & Nelson Department Store. When advance ticket sales ended, I accepted a job offer to supervise ticket sales for the Monorail and sales of World’s Fair Trade Dollars at booths on the fairgrounds.  And so it was that I rode the Monorail back and forth every day to ticket sales offices on both ends of the line, supervising our operations.  What a great job!  I never tired of the ride. Leo Weisfield, Treasurer of the Greater Seattle, Inc., presented watches and diamond rings to me and the three top trade dollar sellers.  Our picture in the Seattle Times newspaper on September 5, 1962 was over a caption stating that these three sellers, alone, had sold a total of 37,867 dollars in the first three weeks of the Fair! I left for college shortly before the Fair ended with earnings from my World’s Fair jobs paying for the first year of school. 

Linda Danielson
Edmonds, WA

Never will I forget a Sunday afternoon at the Seattle Center 1966 – I was sweet 16 and went with a girlfriend by bus with a big box of Blanchet Chocolate bars. It was a school competition, so it was a “sell them or die” ultimatum. It was also a great place and opportunity to meet guys. We were so brave in the ’60s. A nice guy offered to buy my whole case!! Ended up marrying him two years later and my sister married the guy with him. What a far-reaching outing at the Seattle Center.

Noel Nelson
Jacksonville, FA

Thank you for a fabulous recap of the World’s Fair in your February 2012 issue. A shout-out to Mr. Gandy who made sure the 27 Eagle Scouts we brought from Denver, Colorado for the opening of the fair were able to get to the top of the Space Needle all at the same time!! It was a spectacular event for all four days we spent at the fair. I now, 50 years later, live in Jacksonville, Florida and am fortunate to be able to return to Seattle annually to visit family. I congratulate Seattle for maintaining the Seattle Center in such a wonderful way, to create a destination for families. We have now brought our grandchildren to the center for live children’s theatre, the butterfly exhibit, and this past Christmas to the top of the Space Needle on a glorious day that you could see from Canada to Oregon! They thoroughly enjoyed Santa in his space ship, decorating cookies and eating hot dogs! We took the Monorail into the city. Seattle does Christmas so well! The new Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit will be on our next visit when bringing the boys out to the Science Center. Thanks for the memories. You covered them all with fabulous pictures and facts! 

Alice Lynn
My father, Joe Cooper, 85-years-old, was an executive with the Seattle World’s Fair. He has completed a remarkable memoir of that exciting time in Seattle history. Here is a portion of his opening paragraphs that introduce the piece. 

“The six months long Fair was a huge event in my life and in the lives of my family members. Our family Fair experience was not typical, our relationship with the Fair was unique and unlike anyone else’s. My view of the Fair was from the administrative offices hidden away upstairs in the old Armory. My experiences involved all the hard working executives, administrators, managers, accountants, PR agents, office workers, everybody who made the Fair a huge success.  And made it run beautifully, I must add.  I saw the Fair through the eyes of the thousands of folks from the U. S. and all nations who came to Seattle to exhibit their arts and crafts, music and dance and share their stories, culture and food with all the visitors who were finding their way to Seattle in 1962. Because I had to be at the Fair every day for work, three of my young daughters had to be at the Fair too.  I’ve included stories of how they spent their summer vacation at the Fair and hopefully I’ve conveyed their wonder and excitement.  I hope you enjoy my stories and memories.”

In a very folksy style, because that’s who my father is, this piece reveals what went on behind the scenes and how the Fair was run. Perhaps Seattle magazine is the ideal place for this piece to be shared with others and hopefully reach some of my father’s now mature employees.

Susan O’Donnell

All the excitement of dreaming and planning and paying for making the World’s Fair happen in Seattle was mostly lost on me & my 3 siblings.  In April of 1962 we were 13, 12, 10 and 7.  But our Dad, a Standard Oil Company sales representative to the Seattle District contractor trade including all the way up to Alaska, had been excitedly telling us about plans for the Standard Oil Company “booth”.  And, there was lots of excitement around our family’s planning for out-of-town groups of relatives who were making their way from Anacortes, Vancouver B.C., Illinois, Tennessee, and Florida to see the Space Needle and the Standard Oil Company Pavilion! The oil company exhibit was to be staffed by rotating teams of employees from Standard Oil during the fair.  Dad was thrilled to be one of these ambassadors of good will to greet fair goers.  The Company was generously handing out small plastic, capped vials of a honey-colored, “standard” oil.   Dad proudly brought a few home for his tool box and for our Mom and Grandmothers to use to oil their sewing machines. In the first few weeks of the World’s Fair, sharing small samples of this all-purpose Standard Oil with the visitors seemed like a great idea to highlight the Company’s reputation for producing such useful products. However, disaster soon stuck when a few rowdies (Dad called them “jerky little kids”), pockets full of the Standard Oil vials, made their way to the top of the Space Needle to launch the little oil bombs off the viewing deck onto the walkways 600 feet below. Seems some lady’s fur coat was ruined and she threatened to sue the Standard Oil Company! Don’t know what happened to the rest of the little oil vials when the Company had to stop giving them away that summer of 1962. Perhaps they ended up in the kitchen drawers of hundreds of Standard Oil employees.  One could certainly find one or two in nearly every room of our house!  And most likely some were carried back to Anacortes, Vancouver B.C., Illinois, Tennessee, Florida and beyond.

Kaye Chapman
Washington, DC

I am one of three sisters and our favorite memory of the Space Needle is having our father, who is now 87 and a retired physician, take each of us to dinner on our sweet 16th birthday. As each of us turned 16, Dad would dress up in his tux, we would wear a long length dress (the fashion those days for young women), he would order a corsage for us and we would spend an entire evening on our “first date” with Dad! It was wonderful and magical. A photo would be taken to commerate the event. Each of us looked forward to this and thoroughly enjoyed our evening with our wonderful Father.  My sisters and I are all now in our early 50’s but still fondly remember celebrating our 16th birthday in a very special way at the Space Needle. Thanks for the splendid memories!



A reunion is being planned for all former Seattle World’s fair employees on June 30, 2012. For more information, former employees should contact Cathy Sander, 206.684.7302 or [email protected].

For information on other Century 21 anniversary celebrations, follow this page on seattlemag.com

Some of these recollections were originally published in the February 2012 issue of Seattle magazine.


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