Seattle's interest in being a world-class city springs eternal, and in the wake of the 50th anniversary of Seattle’s Century 21 World's Fair some civic boosters have wondered if Seattle can regain the mojo of the Mad Men era. While another world's fair is off the table for the foreseeable future — no U.S. city can host one at this time because the US withdrew from the Bureau of International Expositions — the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi, Russia are a reminder that we've never hosted an Olympics.
That dream is not entirely dead. Last year, Seattle was mentioned as a possible host for the 2024 summer games. In March 2013 Mayor Mike McGinn asked the city to look into it. Our Cascadian neighbors to the north, Vancouver and Calgary, have hosted Olympics. Such talk here usually gets shot down fast--the costs are high and only seem to pencil out if the infrastructure and publicity offer a long-term payoff. A big question mark.
There's public and political skepticism too. A year ago, the results of a Seattle Times online poll ran 60-40 against hosting. In 1998, a large majority of the city council refused to support a bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. With civic support, Olympic bids are speculative and expensive. Without hometown backing, they're stillborn.
But it wasn't always so. Little remembered is that Seattle once did make a play for the Winter Games. The city competed with Lake Placid, Denver and Salt Lake City for the right to be the U.S. host in 1976. The chance to make our case to the United States Olympic Committee came in December 1967 and the city, flush with post-World's Fair moxie, saw a chance to star on the world's stage during America's bicentennial year.
Seattle had targeted sports as its ticket to "big league" city status. The Supersonics were playing their first season, and city boosters were angling for a baseball franchise – trying to steal the Athletics from Kansas City. Plans were also afoot for a major new stadium, and the Seafair hydroplane races were still a big deal.
In terms of luring the Olympics, Seattle's experience with the Century 21 gave the boosters confidence and a template. The city's bid was backed by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Mayor J.D. "Dorm" Braman and Governor Dan Evans, an avid skier and outdoorsman. The local organizing committee included World’s Fair vets Western International Hotels' Eddie Carlson, who'd headed the exposition effort; Louis Larsen, the fair’s former head of special events and afterwards the man in charge of Seattle Center; mayoral aide Ed Devine, who had worked at the World’s Fair and later headed the Pacific Science Center; and Century 21’s publicity expert Jay Rockey.
Seattle’s Olympic bid, Devine told The Seattle Times, was "a new platform for our World's Fair spirit to stand on." That bid emphasized how the little city that pulled off the big fair in '62 could repeat that success with the Winter Olympic Games.
First, Seattle knew how to raise funds from public and private sectors, and get the word out. We'd drawn nearly 10 million people and the global press to our little corner of the country.
Second, while the World's Fair focus had been science, no one – Olympic officials were assured – loved the outdoors and winter sports more than Seattleites. Seattle boasted the "highest ratio of skiers to general population" of any city in North America.
Third, we had the facilities, both natural and manmade. The city was close to Snoqualmie Pass, perfect for alpine skiing, bobsled and luge events (at Alpental), ski jumping (at Hyak) and cross country and the biathlon (at Keechelus). The Seattle Center, left over from the fair, was the perfect venue for skating and hockey events, and an adjacent Olympic Village that could be converted to low-income or university housing after the fair. (Other village options included Yesler Terrace and Mt. Baker ridge above the I-90 tunnels).
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!