A World of Difference
Our fearless editorial director reflects on the 1962 World's Fair and the lasting optimism it brough
By Rachel Hart
January 13, 2012
In 2006, when we produced an anniversary issue celebrating this magazine’s 40-year evolution from Pacific Search, to Pacific Northwest, to Seattle Home and Garden to the Seattle mag you’re reading today, we invited local notables to write about the key events and people responsible for shaping our city over the last 40 years. A common theme quickly emerged as the turning point in our city’s growth: the 1962 World’s Fair. For example, the late Peter Donnelly, who was president of the Arts Fund (then Corporate Council for the Arts), credited the World’s Fair for the Seattle’s rise as a world-class arts city. “The World’s Fair left a million dollars in the bank to transform the fair’s site…into a park and entertainment center, the Seattle Center,” he wrote, noting that Seattle Repertory Theatre was the first post-fair arts organization created in Seattle.
“We needed some money to prime the pump, but the real catalyst was the window to the world that the World’s Fair provided, and the realization that if we were going to have these kinds of arts opportunities and institutions we were going to have to do them ourselves—and we did. What happened with the World’s Fair was not a renaissance, but a naissance.”
Seattle Center is certainly still known for its theaters, museums, ballet and opera, but the fair’s futuristic theme also brought us the Pacific Science Center, one of the children’s organizations my kids, thankfully, never outgrow. (I recently came across a photo of 9-year-old Paul Allen at the fair; just look at the rocket-building bazillionaire now!)
And of course, the fair also brought us the icon that definitively shapes our skyline: the Space Needle. Kids love it. (“Lood at da Pace Needo!” my then-2-year-old nephew Owen exclaimed repeatedly every time he caught a glimpse of it on a visit years back.) Grown-ups love it. (Don’t tell me you don’t still “oooh!” on that elevator ride up with the umpteenth visitor you’ve had this year.) The media love it. (Cue the gratuitous beauty shot on Grey’s Anatomy!) It’s such an undeniable part of our city’s identity, and we’re proud to be the official magazine partner of the Space Needle’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
Seattle magazine editor at large Knute Berger has been perched atop the Space Needle for the past year, digging through archives and uncovering all sorts of great stories and factoids for his other gig as the official Space Needle writer in residence. He’s working on a commemorative book—due out this April—that celebrates the Space Needle’s 50th anniversary. Knute penned this issue’s main essay, a love letter to our city’s defining moment, in a weekend—but it’s clear it’s been on his mind for a lifetime.
World’s fairs have come and gone in their host cities, sometimes leaving overly decorated, unpopulated spaces in their wake. The Seattle Center has certainly had its moments as a cultural ghost town, but exciting new developments may yet tip the scale toward the Central Park–like space our city’s always hoped for. We’ve been behind the scenes at the new Chihuly glass museum. (I like glass art as much as the next person, but I might be more excited about Dale Chihuly’s collections of accordions that will be on display.)
The Seattle Center’s food court is showing promise of becoming an actual dining destination with a new look by local rock-star restaurant architect/designers Graham Baba, whose recent successes include the beloved Revel, The Walrus and the Carpenter and Staple & Fancy, not to mention Skillet Diner, which just signed on to open a location at the center. At press time, there is even talk of a wine bar. And there are big plans down the road to tear down Memorial Stadium to create a grand lawn green space.
We’ve heard a lot of Space Needle and World’s Fair stories over the last several months, and look forward to hearing more (yours maybe?). One of my favorites is from Helen Rockey, daughter of legendary public relations man Jay Rockey, who did PR for the fair and essentially sold Seattle to the world via two Life magazine covers.
While we were photographing Jay on a chilly December morning at the base of the Needle, Helen told me about her memory as a 5-year-old begging her dad to go to the Space Needle. Jay fibbed, telling her they didn’t have enough money to go up to the top, but that he could take her to the basement. So down they went in the service elevator, only to then shoot all the way to the top, to Helen’s ecstatic delight. It’s the kind of excitement that the Space Needle has always inspired and it continues to do so as anniversary fever builds.
With this issue, we’re not just celebrating the Needle or the Seattle Center or the World’s Fair, but also those feelings of excitement and optimism about the possibilities of the future. Stay tuned throughout the year for more 50th anniversary coverage.
Until next month,
P.S. Like our new look? With our redesign—we’re calling it more of a “refresh,” actually—we’ve tweaked some fonts and formats; moved a few stories around. Our award-winning art director Sue Boylan has given Seattle mag a clean and elegant new look; let us know what you think, and watch for a few more fun changes in the months to come.