Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Trending Stories

Our Members

Many thanks to Sharon Griggins Davis and Walter Pietrowski some of our many supporters.


Most Commented


    Memorable fiascos of Seattle's 1962 world's fair

    As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World's Fair, it's time to remember some of the crimes and blunders that went along with it. Some even launched new industries.

    Century 21, Seattle 1962

    Century 21, Seattle 1962 University of Washington

    For all the attention to the automobile at the time of the 1962 World's Fair, the city made sure people knew that buses were an option for getting to the Century 21 Exposition.

    For all the attention to the automobile at the time of the 1962 World's Fair, the city made sure people knew that buses were an option for getting to the Century 21 Exposition. Seattle Municipal Archives/Engineering Department

    Writing about the 1962 world's fair, it's tempting to focus, as I often have, on Seattle as the little engine that could. Century 21 was an unlikely success and a turning point that helped shape the modern city. But the organizers of 50 years ago were human. The fair was not without controversy or its share of fiascos. We look back in envy at what was accomplished, but there were lawsuits, crimes, and blunders that set officials scrambling to make good and cover their butts.

    The following is a short list of some fair-related fumbles. They're not untypical of those experienced by any city that hosts an expo or Olympics. 

    Interbay Parking Boondoggle. Seattle has long debated whether the city should be in the parking lot business. Before there was Pacific Place, there was Interbay. Fair organizers were concerned with handling the huge amount of expo traffic expected. What to do with all those cars? City and fair officials looked at using public property for off-site parking at multiple sites near the fairgrounds and as far afield as the Rainier Valley (near the I-90 tunnel) and Magnolia's Interbay. They even got approval from the state to use the not-yet-open I-5 freeway bridge over the ship canal as a parking lot, if needed. Buses would shuttle visitors to and from the fair. 

    Century 21 built a massive lot on leased city property at Interbay with attendants, a visitor's center and enough space to park 5,000 cars per day. The fair spent at least $230,000 on it. The problem? It wasn't needed. More convenient private lots near the fairgrounds blossomed with thousands of spaces. An even bigger surprise: nearly twice as many people took Seattle public transit to the fair than anticipated. People changed behavior to avoid gridlock. On peak days, the Interbay lot averaged not 5,000 but only 70 cars! The expensive boondoggle was mothballed mid-way through the fair.

    Embezzlement at the Fair. In August of '62, the manager of the Fish & Chips concession at the fair's Food Circus skipped town. His name was Dewey Bouck, and he was accused by King County prosecutor Charles O. Carroll of grand larceny for embezzling $28,400 in Fish & Chips receipts. Bouck was also involved in managing the fair's Indian Village. The Village was short of funds, employees weren't being paid. Angry, the Native Americans walked out and the Village shut down, resulting in the loss of a major cultural attraction (some of them set up a new, alternative Village at a restaurant in Federal Way).

    Bouck was accused of writing bad checks on the Village's account. He eventually returned to town and surrendered, and pled guilty to misappropriating the funds. He claimed he had taken the Fish & Chips receipts to prop-up losses at the Indian Village. In 1963, he was given a 15-year suspended sentence on condition he pay restitution of $50,000.

    The Colacurcios, of course. The Seattle fair involved many of Seattle's most famous families, including one of the most notorious, the Colacurcios, headed by the late nightlife boss and Strippergate scandal figure Frank Colacurcio, Sr. In fact, the Seattle World's Fair was a seminal event in his career. The Seattle Times reported in 1981 that his attorney, William Helsell, said it was at the fair that Colacurcio realized "he had what it took to be a success in the nightclub business." That's a fair legacy you don't hear much about.

    The Colacurcios, like other business people, wanted to capitalize on the fair. Frank's brother Bill had sought to get one of his pinball operations located next to the fairgrounds, but the city wanted to keep that scandal-plagued business at arm's length. But Frank, then 45 years old, managed and operated the Diamond Horseshoe nightclub at the fair, a Gay Nineties-themed establishment on Show Street where pretty waitresses served beer and wine and patrons watched dance acts and listened to music ranging from Calypso to jazz. Trouble came in August when authorities discovered that four club dancers were minors, aged 15 to 17. Colacurcio was accused of knowingly employing the under-age girls and instructing them to get false ID's. He was found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of minors, fined $500 and given a six-month suspended sentence.

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Mon, Mar 19, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    Good thing that the late 1990's effort to land an Olympics in Greater Seattle collapsed before ever really getting started. Neighborhoods would have been trampled, trumped, neglected, shafted, short-changed, and screwed over by over-zealous downtown and big-project developers. We still got our new stadiums without all the 12 years of cheerleading on the way toward a 17 day event.


    Posted Mon, Mar 19, 1:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for the background on what compelled all the normally sane Lower Queen Anne homeowners to install (unused) locks on the doors of all their extra rooms (and some not so extra), which as awareness of Fair mania faded must have puzzled many a new owner.


    Posted Mon, Mar 19, 2:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    I gather that the phenomenon you write about - much less traffic congestion than people feared, and spent huge sums to mitigate - is pretty standard, especially for Olympics. The locals leave town or avoid coming there for other reasons, and the visitors all take transit.

    Which leads to one of my criticisms of the overrated World's Fair impact. Why didn't the city get more out of it than some theaters and the Arena and the monorail? It was an opportunity to capture some land, say for parking, and then recycle it for public good, such as a research park or a park. There might have been a transit hub built for the Center, which today suffers from being hard to get to, not served by light rail, etc. And there should have been a plan for how to use the fairgrounds. Instead, the penny-pinching City Council was beguiled by the supposed way the Fair made money (the real reason was a big federal subsidy) into thinking that Seattle Center should do the same. The result was years of saving money, doing things on the cheap, inviting in commercial users, and no clear vision for a post-Fair place.

    Posted Mon, Mar 19, 4:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    David: Great comments. The post-fair arguments began early--way before the fair. By tying the fair to the civic center bond issue, they were committed to putting all the eggs in one basket, and acquiring the 74 aces proved more expensive then anticipated, so a number of things had to be done on the cheap, such as renovated Civic Auditorium into an opera house, instead of building a new one. That got the fair sued and almost stopped it. The struggle too between civic groups (Allied Arts) and the business community started early too, and a complete hijacking of the Center by private downtown interests was averted. The fair did have other benefits: it saw a major revamp of the waterfront and the expansion of restaurants and hotels; it helped with the '61 plan to spruce up downtown with skybridges, street improvements (greenery, trees, etc.). This was in part downtown's share for not having the fair closer in (like First Hill, a prime possibility for the Civic Center that was rejected). As to transportation, we wound up with massive parking lots in the Denny Triangle, and the hope that the monorail system would be expanded to a city and regional system died slowly, but coming out the fair the case for keeping it was boosted by how well it had worked during the fair. Since few fairs before had left anything like the Seattle legacy, usually by design, the fact that the fair organizers did not get more is less remarkable than that they got as much as they did (thanks, Maggie!). It is true that the federal subsidy helped, but other fairs (like New York in '64) also got big federal dollars and still failed to be either profitable or leave behind a coherent civic space as complex as the Center. I also think it became hard to leverage the fair can-do "process" because it was an exception to the rules; things broke down once the unity of a single purpose vanished. Ewen Dingwall realized after the fact how unusual Seattle was as he consulted in other cities. The fact that Seattle came together for the fair was itself unusual even as it was not-repeatable.

    Posted Mon, Mar 19, 4:43 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Brewster-Berger exhange is interesting. Of course, the 1962 was itself a repeat of what had happened in 1909, although not much more than the campus plan survived at the UW's Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Oddly, the failure to plan what was to happen after the fair encouraged the creation of the Northwest Folklife Festival and Bumbershoot, both of which were the result of federal iniatives in the early 1970's. With better planning, there may not have been room for those festivals. Dingwall's conclusion that our fairs were unrepeatable may reveal that television (and distracting wars) had more to do with the end of world's fairs than recent speculation about the role of the internet or something special in our Seattle air.


    Posted Mon, Mar 19, 6:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    MJH: The great fade of fairs in North America (none since '86) is likely due to specific conditions and cycles in the US and Canada re: city building. The final fairs here were mostly in emerging, smaller cities (Seattle, San Antonio, Spokane, Knoxville, Vancouver; New Orleans ended the US fair run in '84 with a fair that was bankrupt). European fairs continue, with an emphasis on emerging cities (Seville, Hanover, Zaragoza), and continue in Asian countries on an upswing (Korea, China). There are also bids for fairs in countries that would break new geographic ground as far as expos are concerned: Brazil, Thailand, Turkey, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Fairs are dead in North America, still flourishing elsewhere, but the records of "success" and legacy are still mixed. As Seattle showed and David Brewster suggests, much of the work of a fair takes in the hard work of city-building years after.

    Posted Tue, Mar 20, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    " ..a transit hub for the center" , "hard to get to..." C'mon David Brewster, this was 1962. There were maybe two "research centers" in the USA. Seattle pursuing a research center would have been. like Cle Elum going after a major league baseball team. In fact the space worked out pretty well for the NBA until the economics of a 10,000 seat venue slipped away; then they moved the symphony orchestra downtown, established way too many legitimate theaters in a town of Seattle's size. It would have been hard to foresee these things in 1962. More like impossible. I'm glad it's there.


    Posted Tue, Mar 20, 4:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    Mossback writes: "Fairs are dead in North America, still flourishing elsewhere, but the records of "success" and legacy are still mixed."

    But isn't a major reason the fact that the US is no longer part of the World's Fair system? It's awfully hard to plan such an event, and get it approved, in a country that officially shuns them. It would be a little like a country saying it was no longer going to compete in the Olympics, but it wanted to host the games.


    Posted Tue, Mar 20, 4:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    dbreneman: Your Olympics analogy is right on. The US cannot now host a fair until it rejoins the BIE. The current rules are that a non-member cannot host a fair, and we withdrew during the George W. Bush era. But, the fair drought began before that withdrawal. Part of the reason is, as David Brewster suggested, that there is no real ability to hold a fair without federal money, and there's not much support for fair spending by the US at all--it's virtually prohibited, which is why USA participation in overseas fairs now has to be almost entirely privately funded. It is hard to scale-up a fair without federal funds, and the driving reason for federal involvement in US fairs from Seattle on was the Cold War. Congress could spend money on US fairs, but given the budget situation, there's no way. But also, I think it has to do in general with infrastructure spending, urban renewal funding, and how corporations choose to spend their money "branding" themselves. The BIE would love to have the USA back in the fold, and would love to have a US fair someday, but the BIE problem and federal funding are still big issues. I really hoped the Silicon Valley bidders for 2020 might have surmounted the political hurdles, but no luck.

    Posted Tue, Mar 20, 6:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    Although I didn't join Seattle's 1962 world's fair, but I can see so much information about it here, I am very happen. Thanks for sharing this.


    Posted Wed, Mar 21, 8:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    Hi Knute,

    I realize this article is no doubt one of the fruits of your exhaustive book-level research on the second Seattle world's fair. But I noticed that that there's one 'scandal of the fair' that you appear to leave out. And if you're not aware of it, my gosh, this is one you shouldn't miss.

    Back in 1985 or 1986, the Spokesman-Review published a rather searing Sunday story about a local contractor that had basically been screwed by the federal government in the construction of the U.S. Science Pavilion (now the Pacific Science Center). To get it built in time for the fair opening, he went over budget, if memory serves, for overtime and design changes. He was assured that he would be compensated. Except that he wasn't, and he was forced out of business and into bankruptcy.

    Years of litigation followed. The story charted all the ups and downs. And at the point when the story was written, it looked like there finally might be an act of Congress to compensate the guy for the payment he should have gotten from the U.S. government nearly 25 years before. Our local congressman in Spokane had taken an interest in the case. You might remember the guy, Tom Foley?

    Anyway, I was working at the Review as the most junior reporter on the staff when this one hit, and I remember being blown away by it. The story presented the contractor as a patriotic American who got screwed when the feds reneged on their promises, and it certainly seemed to prove the case. It must have made quite an impression if I can remember it 25 years later. It seemed to run for at least a full newspaper page, reproduced documents, used all sorts of graphics, the whole nine yards -- and it left me thinking that the whole nasty business was one of the worst legacies of the fair.

    Somehow I doubt that the Spokane paper has been on your radar screen as you've been doing your research, but this is one story worth seeking out.


    Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

    Join Crosscut now!
    Subscribe to our Newsletter

    Follow Us »