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.
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