Next year will kick off the centennial of Seattle's first world's fair, the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition of 1909. The expo was held on what is now the University of Washington campus, and while most of the fair's pavilions are long gone, a few original structures remain. One is the Women's Building, now named Cunningham Hall after Seattle photographer Imogen Cunningham. The university plans to relocate the hall by the end of 2009 to make room for the new Molecular Engineering Building.
The UW is still trying to figure out where to put Cunningham Hall. The favored location, according to the UW, is southwest of Parrington Hall, but they are looking at other sites as well. The Women's Pavilion was host to women's art exhibits during the fair, but it was also a focal point for women's activities and political activism, including Suffrage Day (July 7, 1909). It continued as a women's center after the fair, then was turned into a storage facility, and later was reclaimed and renamed. It currently houses the campus's Women's Center, the Women and Democracy program, and other offices. Sutapa Basu, director of the Women's Center, says that it "is the oldest and only historic building for women in the state of Washington, so the building has a lot of historic significance and is known for its history of advancing the rights and voice of women."
I met earlier this week with Michael Herschensohn, the former director of Folklife who has been hired by the city to coordinate AYPE centennial events. There will be many of them, from the recreation of a trans-continential Model T race to museum exhibits and research projects. Next year's Folklife Festival will be the kick-off, but events will be going on all year long, and the heritage community is already working on projects ranging from academic papers to trying to find film footage of the fair (some snippets do exist).
The city of Seattle's aim is to see the centennial not simply as a celebration of the past but to take the opportunity to look at lessons for the future. The fair came during one of Seattle's huge booms in population — how the city coped with massive growth and change then could be instructive. There's little question that the fair put Seattle on the national map, awakened interest in the Pacific Rim, and reshaped the city fundamentally, from the UW campus to other civic improvement projects. There are two Web sites tracking events: aypcentennial.org is the city's official one, and King County's 4Culture and Historylink have teamed up with aype.org. Historylink, whose founder, the late Walt Crowley, was one of the spearheads of the AYPE centennial effort, is also posting new essays about the exposition every week.