The City of Seattle and the 1962 World’s Fair

The 1962 World's Fair was the brainchild of City Councilmember Al Rochester and planning began far in advance. In 1957, Seattle voters passed a $7.5 million Civic Center bond for possible fairground development, which was matched by the state legislature. The Century 21 Commission secured certification as an official World's Fair from the International Bureau of Expositions.

Congress passed Senate Bill 3680 in August 1958, establishing a Federal Commissioner to coordinate ways in which the federal government could participate in the Fair, including issuing of invitations to foreign nations and appropriating funding for buildings. The U.S. government contributed over $9 million, primarily to build the NASA-themed U.S. Science Exhibit, now the Pacific Science Center.

Map of World's Fair site, 1960
Vertical File 431, SMA
World's Fair souvenir program
Vertical File 435, SMA
Coliseum structural elevation and mechanical unit framing
Drawing 64, SMA

Paul Thiry was selected as chief architect in November 1958. His first plan for the site was submitted in July 1960. He designed the Washington State Pavilion which has gone through many name changes including the Washington State Coliseum, KeyArena, and currently, Climate Pledge Arena. The architects B. Marcus Priteca and James J. Chiarelli were chosen to remodel and improve the Civic Ice Arena in 1959.

In 1960, $537,000 was approved for construction and installation of underground lighting facilities at the Century 21 site and vicinity; this required removal of about 3.5 miles of overhead pole lines.

The Engineering Department undertook improvements to the downtown transportation network and incorporated the fair grounds into the water/sewer utility system.

City Light workers installing underground wiring on the fair grounds, March 8, 1962
Image 165680, SMA
First section of monorail track being raised, September 21, 1961
Image 69421, SMA
World's Fair advance ticket sales form
Vertical File 435, SMA

The City oversaw the monorail line, International Fountain, and a 1,500-car garage on Mercer Street. Mayor Clinton spearheaded a downtown beautification program and organized the Seattle Beautiful Committee. Suggestions solicited from City departments included: more drinking fountains, rodent control, pigeon control, garbage cleanup in Elliott Bay, improvements to the fire station at the foot of Marion Street (Ivar Haglund agreed to paint it at his own expense in a color approved by the Art Commission), painting and new street name signs in the central business district, and repairs to stalls in Pike Place Market.

With a theme emphasizing the future, tickets for the Century 21 exhibit went on sale early in 1962. Tickets in advance for one adult were $1.80.

International Fountain architects Hideki Shimizu and Kazuyuki Matsushita, April 12, 1962
Image 195655, SMA
Water Department employee with handheld communication device adjusting the fountain's nozzles, March 12, 1962
Image 195611, SMA
Undercrossing with tangle of pipes below the fountain, February 19, 1962
Image 195621, SMA
Paul Thiry and architects Shimizu, Matsushita, and John Phillips in front of fountain, April 12, 1962
Image 195653, SMA

The Board of Public Works conducted oversight and licensing for building projects on municipal land, including design and construction of fair exhibits. The International Fountain was among those projects. Tokyo architects Hideki Shimizu and Kazuyuki Matsushita won an international competition to design the fountain. The John H. Sellen Construction Company was authorized by the Board of Public Works to construct the fountain, referred to as the "Illuminated Water Display," in August 1961. The final price for construction was $289,159.81.

International Fountain dedication, May 31, 1962
Image 201428, SMA
International Fountain dedication, May 31, 1962
Image 201432, SMA
International Fountain dedication, May 31, 1962
Image 201429, SMA
International Fountain, June 11, 1963
Image 200812, SMA

On May 10, 1962, not long after the Fair opened, the consulting engineers Valentine & Fisher wrote to City Council with a concern: children playing on the fountain. "The kids are playing 'Fountain Roulette' with the International Fountain. This sort of thing was never intended to be allowed and someone is likely to be severely injured eventually... We recommend that an ordinance be enacted immediately making trespassing upon the white rock area by any unauthorized person a violation of city ordinance." 

The International Fountain was officially dedicated on May 31, 1962, during the American Water Works Association (AWWA) convention. The fountain remains an iconic part of Seattle Center today.

SCL developed the Pavilion of Electric Power exhibit featuring a 40-foot-tall depiction of a hydroelectric dam. Located near the foot of the Space Needle, the Pavilion also featured a relief map illustrating sources of electricity in Washington State. A model had been built by July 1961, groundbreaking took place on November 9, 1961, and construction was underway by the end of 1961.

Pavilion of Electric Power postcard
Vertical File 435, SMA
Electrical Pavilion model, July 17, 1961
Image 167572, SMA
Groundbreaking for Electrical Pavilion, November 9, 1961
Image 200940, SMA
Electrical Pavilion under construction, December 15, 1961
Image 167565, SMA

The relief map used electricity to illustrate how electricity was generated. The map was installed on March 30, in plenty of time. Visitors could look down on the electrified map from the ramp to the Pavilion. A mural was also installed inside the Pavilion and lit from behind. In addition to illustrative panels about water as an energy source, the Pavilion also displayed information about future power from solar and atomic energy.

City Light employees working on relief map, March 21, 1962
Image 165700, SMA
Relief map inside Electrical Pavilion
Image 78878, SMA
Mural inside Electrical Pavilion
Image 78876, SMA
Electrical Pavilion at foot of Space Needle
Image 78891, SMA

By the time the Fair closed on October 21, 1962, more than 10 million people had walked the grounds. Some individuals have donated their family's photographs to the Municipal Archives, providing images from their Fair experience and ones not captured by City photographers.

One silent home movie by an unknown creator, donated to the City of Seattle, records the opening ceremony on April 21, 1962. Footage includes a train arriving at King Street Station, greeted by the Seattle Buddhist Church’s Buddhist Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps and baton twirlers, speeches at the Plaza of the States and a performance of the Coast Salish tribes.

Electrical Pavilion
Image 196776, SMA
International Fountain at dusk
Image 196747, SMA
Space Needle
Image 73121, SMA
Science Pavilion at night
Image 196728, SMA

The Century 21 grounds became an important destination for sporting and cultural events after the Fair, now known as the Seattle Center.

 

Resources:

  • "International Fountain - Misc. Construction 1961-1962," box 2, folder 19, Record Series 7605-01
  • "Century 21 – Downtown Beautification 1961," box 7, folder 1, Record Series 5210-01
  • "Civic Center Development (Seattle Center) 1958-1961," box 2, folder 3, Record Series 0601-01
  • "Site plans, 1961," box 2, folder 1, Record Series 7605-02
  • P Series, Seattle City Light Negatives, Record Series 1204-01
  • World's Fair Slides, Record Series 9955-01
  • Archie Cooksey Slide Collection, Record Series 9955-02
  • Preliminary Site Development Plan for Civic Center, box 2, folder 3, Record Series 0601-01