Exhibiting the exposition

The centennial of Seattle's first world's fair puts the fair itself on display, and looks to put the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the historical map. And that's not the only history to celebrate this week.
Crosscut archive image.

An AYP trading card, showing the Forestry Pavilion

The centennial of Seattle's first world's fair puts the fair itself on display, and looks to put the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition on the historical map. And that's not the only history to celebrate this week.

This weekend marks the city of Seattle's official kick-off of the centennial of Seattle's first world's fair, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. Most Seattleites don't know that we had a fair before 1962's Century 21 Expo, but Seattle was one of many cities to host these civic coming out parties in the 19th and early 20th century, the golden age of expositions.

Few people realize that the AYPE lead directly to our second world's fair, which was originally conceived as a half-century update of the exposition. The Arctic frontier, however, had shifted to the New Frontier of the Space Age. Both left important legacies too numerous to mention, but among the most obvious are AYPE's grounds became the University of Washington layout we know today, and Century 21's Space Needle is our Eiffel Tower.

Historylink authors Alan Stein and Paula Becker have written a comprehensive history of the AYPE and will launch the book at the Northwest Folklife Festival this Memorial Day weekend. A preview of some of the kinds of things you can expect to find is here.

Folklife (May 22-25) will also feature a number of other AYPE centennial-themed events. For souvenir hunters, the city of Seattle has produced a series of cool AYPE trading cards. The one pictured here shows my favorite fair building: the Forestry Pavilion, constructed out of giant, barked, old-growth trees. Unfortunately, it no longer exists (but if you ever want some sense of what it must have been like, check out the lobby of Glacier Park Lodge in Montana where they employed a similar technique). Members of the public will be able to pick up trading cards at McCaw Hall during Folklife.

Another great way to get a visual handle on the fair is to check out the Museum of History and Industry's exhibit "Photographing the Fair" which is up now and runs through December. The large reproductions of both official and informal fair photography puts you right in the crowds and highlights both the highs and lows of the fair, from a cow made of almonds from California, to a tower of apples from Oregon (see photo), to the carnival atmosphere of the Pay Streak entertainment zone, to the faces of Ingorot tribal peoples from the Phillipines who were displayed to fairgoers in zoo-like conditions.

To get a listing of events, exhibitions, symposiums, and other AYPE centennial activities, you can check out websites brought to you by the city of Seattle, King County's 4Culture and Historylink, or this list of events from the Seattle Times.

Also, in related news on the topic of historic preservation:

Seattle's Landmarks Board did designate the George W. Carmack House as an historic landmark at their meeting on May 6. The nomination and designation had been contested by the estate of the owner, represented by Art Skolnik, who raised questions about the home's architectural qualities and the character of its occupant. George Carmack was the man credited with staking the first claim in the Klondike gold fields and setting off the rush that ushered in an era of prosperity for Seattle, the event which AYPE commemorated. The Carmack House, in Seattle's Squire Park neighborhood, was his last residence. In addition to his historic role in launching the gold rush, Carmack also played a direct role in the AYPE by providing the gold nugget-laden telegraph key that launched the fair.

And this week, Historic Seattle, the non-profit public development authority set up to save and find new uses for important Seattle structures, celebrates its 35th Anniversary with an awards ceremony at the newly refurbished Arctic Club Hotel. The Arctic Club was built by men who made their fortunes in the gold rush, for the most part not from gold itself but from the incredible real estate and retail boom the Klondike kicked off for the city. The event will recognize the important work of Historic Seattle, but also acknowledge some key heritage projects in Seattle. I will be the keynote speaker for the event. It's a chance to raise some funds and awareness of worthy work going on to save the city's heritage from the wrecking ball.

The event is on Wednesday, May 20 at 5:30 pm in the Northern Lights Dome Room of the Arctic Club Hotel downtown (3rd and Cherry). It's $60 for the general public. Tickets can be ordered at www.historicseattle.org or by calling (206) 622-6952.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.