12. SEATTLE WORLD’S FAIR (1962)
Sister Donald stood in the doorway of St. Margaret’s School with a brass bell in her hand and pealed it vigorously. Clang-alang-alang. Clang-alang-alang. Clang-alang-alang.
At twelve o’clock every Wednesday an incredibly loud emergency siren would go off three blocks away. This was an air raid drill and occasionally we would “Duck and Cover” just like the public service announcements said we should but usually we just ignored it. “All the Soviets would have to do” I thought, “was to time their nuclear missile attack on any Wednesday at noon and they’d catch us with our pants down”.
There had been talk of Dad being called up from the Reserves during the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even though the folks were kind of keeping it from us we could tell something serious was going on. When my dad’s fellow Reservist Larry came by he said in mock seriousness, “Wik, They’re not taking anyone who has more than two kids. Do you mind if I borrow a couple of yours?”
Kennedy had won the Presidency in large part because the Catholic Church had mobilized to do whatever they could to get him elected. On our way home from school we would march in our uniform of salt and pepper corduroys, white shirt and navy blue sweater and raise our voices in chant, “Kennedy, Kennedy, he’s our man. Nixon belongs in the garbage can”. Little did I know that I would again call for Nixon to be thrown out ten years later.
We had heard that President Kennedy and family might come to Seattle to inaugurate the World’s Fair of 1962. It would be the biggest thing to happen in Seattle since the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition of 1909. From our house on Magnolia we eagerly looked downtown to see if the signature structure of the fair, the Space Needle, would be visible from our house. Sure enough, about halfway into the construction phase of the fair, enormous vertical girders poked above the skyline and we would eventually be able to see the whole upper portion of the Space Needle. It was a tremendous sight once the fair got going to see the flame ignited every night on the very top of the Needle.
I’d get my chance to go. Dad promised to take each one of us and smartly realized that we’d get a lot more out of it for memory’s sake if he took us individually. Of course he and mom would go on their own first and I waited until my older brother William got to go. “Brom, are you ready to go to the fair?” my Dad asked one fine summer day. I’d been saving up by going door to door with my wagon collecting newspapers for the school’s paper drive. Along the way I’d ask for empty soda pop bottles. These I could redeem for pennies for the small ones, a nickel for the big bottles.
“Oh Man, You’re kiddin’ me!” I exclaimed. “We’ll try and get an early start in the morning” he said and gave me a wink.
The next morning after a fairly sleepless night wondering what I’d see I was told I’d have to get in my dress clothes after taking a full bath. This didn’t seem an unreasonable request and I was looking forward to the international dress that would be on display in the different country’s pavilions.
Sitting in the front seat with Dad was novel in itself but on our way to the World’s Fair? We entered the fairgrounds from the north entrance and immediately were struck by wonderfully modern sculptures and fountains. “I know the fellow who designed those birds,” said Dad gesturing at an aerodynamic grouping of winged forms caught in mid-flight over a reflecting pool. “Everett Du Pen, he teaches at the University of Washington. “
There were all manner of sights, sounds and smells coming from every direction at once. Roving jugglers and minstrels, tour groups in open-air coaches, a long gondola ride that went from one end of the fair to the other. “I’m definitely doing that one, Dad”. I said with conviction. “You Bet” he replied. The whole central part of the fairgrounds was dominated by the International Fountain and it was a mesmerizing display that I understood someone played as an old Wurlitzer Organ played in the theater halls of the past.
We made our way along the south side of Memorial Stadium for the first performance of the day, an aquatic-themed show with stacked water skiers like Cypress Gardens. We passed by the Gayway with its amusement park rides, carousel and games. “What’s down there?” I pointed at a collection of colorful buildings with ribbons crisscrossing the way. “Oh that’s for grown ups” he said. “It’s called Show Street, you know, dancers and stuff”. “Oh, Okay” I said, wondering what “stuff” might mean.
After the performance, I went to the terminal for the gondola ride. I’d never seen my dad so patient as the line of people inched forward. “I’m gonna wait here for you, son” he said as we came to a waiting area with benches. “It’s a round trip, so I’ll be here when you get back.” I boarded with another couple that sat across from me in the small red capsule and we set off. We were only about twenty-five feet off the ground but seeing the entire fairgrounds slowly pass by gave me an overwhelming impression. The dynamic arches of the United States Science Pavilion with the adjacent fountains was a terrific sight and the Flag Pavilion with flags from all fifty states signaled Seattle’s entry into the world’s cultural community.
Unhappily, I would not see the fine art exhibition that required a separate admission fee and when I picked up a catalog for the exhibition years later in Beatty’s Book Store downtown I was doubly disappointed at having missed such an outstanding collection of art. We spent a great deal of time seeing the sculptures that punctuated the fairgrounds. Dad especially liked “The Corsair” a larger than life figural sculpture outside the Opera House that expressed the dynamic forms of a stretching figure. I liked the jagged metal fountain designed by James FitzGerald that had its own courtyard and made wonderful tinkling sounds as the water sprayed up and around the abstract shapes. The fabulous Horiuchi Mural with thousands of multicolored glass pieces was magnificent and shows were constantly performed on the stage in front giving a lively backdrop.
We wandered a bit around the base of the Space Needle and marveled at the structure that loomed overhead like a flying saucer had just landed. Ivar’s Fish Bar was nearby and we hurried over to wait in line for a double order of fish and chips. Ivar Hagland was a Seattle institution with a restaurant on Pier 54 on Seattle’s waterfront. We would see him on the kid’s television shows playing guitar and singing obscure folk tunes that he would adapt, "No longer the slave of ambition, I laugh at the world and its shams. As I think of my happy condition, Surrounded by acres of clams." His motto: “Keep Clam” seemed to say as much about Seattle as to him personally.
The Spacearium inside the United States Science Pavilion was a spectacle that I’d heard rumors of by my classmates who’d already been to the fair. It was the closest you could come to actually getting on a spaceship and travelling into outer space. Surprisingly though, one of my favorite attractions would be little mentioned in the press and decidedly low-tech in an exposition that touted the future developments of technology and space exploration.
Doctor Jones’ Fantastic Show was located on the Balcony Level of the Food Circus, the old Seattle Armory Building. We’d take the Bubbleator, a clear acrylic sphere, up to the top and pay an extra twenty-five cent admission. Once inside we could stay as long as we liked. There were all manner of electric toys and gizmos that were operated by pushing buttons on a railing, old cinemascopes could be cranked for animated features and at one end were old gym benches that had bizarre books chained to them. Archaic reference books; The Secret History of Mankind, Freak Shows Through the Ages, Stories of Abductions by American Indians and the like.
Inside the World of Tomorrow I got the most coveted freebie of the fair; a pen-shaped tube of golden motor oil from a Chevron sponsored exhibit. It was totally useless in any practical way but its red cap and aerodynamic shape made it resemble a rocket and just about every kid in the neighborhood had one.
We stayed until nightfall in order to see the extraordinary lighting that illuminated the pavilions, fountains, sculptures and courtyards. I’d spent all the money I had except for one last quarter. Near the exit stood a curious vending machine that would mold a small cast of a head in plastic. There were three choices, a goofy clown, a scary skull or a diabolical red devil head. I chose the devil head.
It was a great, great time and even though it would be a couple years before I’d ascend the Space Needle or ride the Monorail, the new Seattle Center would thereafter be the site of cultural, social and political gatherings for the rest of my life.
The organizers of the exposition had hired local designers and graphic illustrators to conceptualize the look of Century 21 and dad was among the commercial artists to help with the look. He’d already designed menus and signboards for Trader Vic’s, Bob Murray’s Doghouse and other downtown restaurants. Now he and his colleagues demonstrated their artistic skills that the world would admire.
Most all of my Dad’s commercial art friends had offices and studios in downtown Seattle where the ad agencies, publishers, typesetters and newspapers were located. Dad’s studio was behind a large printing plant on First Avenue and University Street, later the site of the Seattle Art Museum. My brothers and I would love to go down there with him on weekends or in the evening and explore the plant, rolling around on giant dollies and playing on the linotype machine. This apparatus, in the hands of a skilled operator was a marvel. The clickety clack, whir whir, swoosh and then the metal sliding against metal sound as each piece of type dropped into its proper position was symphonic in a way. We learned how to suspend a new ingot of lead into the cooker when the level got too low and the combined smell of melted lead, grease and ink was elemental.
Van Dyke Printing was glad to have a graphic designer on site and kept Dad busy with last minute changes or redesigns that their customers might need. On rare occasions, when the workload increased like during the run-up to the World’s Fair, he would hire an extra illustrator or farm out part of a job to another studio.
One of dad’s best friends, Bob Wandesforde, was renowned regionally for his illustrations and his vast knowledge about sailing ships. His marine paintings were exquisitely accurate and won him honors in regional art competitions including the Northwest Annual, a major event each year at the Seattle Art Museum. He and Dad knew each other’s strengths and would collaborate on occasion. Dad’s ability to hand-letter different scripts and his flair for cartoons along with his design skills gave him the tools to be successful in Seattle’s competitive but collegial commercial art scene.
Wandesforde (Wandy) sponsored Dad into the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Painters. The group would be a major source of inspiration, joy and plain hard work for my brothers and me for years to come.