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The 1962 Seattle World's Fair – Century 21 Exposition

On the Road in 1962

As I write this, summer’s over, the kids are back in school, and our roadtrips are done for the year. Well, the roadtrips are never actually finished here at Roadtrip-'62 ™, but my real life vacation is done for 2018. In case you’re wondering, "What I did on my summer vacation", here’s my report. This summer, I attended the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, also known as the Century 21 Exposition! Actually, I visited what’s left from the fair, which is still enough to have a fun day in Seattle, Washington and beyond.

reproduction travel poster for 1962 Seattle World’s Fair
Travel poster for 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (Reproduction print from an online auction.)

From where I live, in Saginaw, Michigan, I could have driven US-10 all the way to Seattle in 1962. The highway ran from Detroit, Michigan to Seattle back then, using a ferry between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. I would have joined the nearly 10 million other visitors who came for the fair that summer, which ran between April 21 and October 21. A great place to stay while in town would have been the Edgewater Hotel, which is built on Pier 67 over the water of the harbor and is Seattle’s original waterfront hotel. This 223-room hotel is still the only waterfront hotel in town and has welcomed many famous guests over the years, including The Beatles in 1964! The large lighted “E” is prominently visible when lighted at night, or even during the daytime from a harbor cruise. I recommend taking a harbor cruise both for the great views and interesting commentary; we did.

Edgewater Hotel, Seattle, Washington, 2018
View of the Edgewater Hotel, Seattle, Washington, from the harbor, 2018

The fair began life as an idea by City Councilman Al Rochester in 1955. Public excitement built, and two years later Seattle voters passed a $7.5 million bond issue for fairground development, which was then matched by the state legislature. Considering the expenditure, it’s nice to see that some of the fair remains over five decades later. It’s also nice to know that unlike some other World's Fairs of the period, this one made a profit! The chosen theme, Century 21 Exposition, wrapped together science, space exploration, and the progressive future. In 1961, the International Bureau of Expositions certified the event as an official World's Fair. This gave the event the cachet for various governments to become involved. The United States was very interested in showing off the nation's scientific prowess, and so committed over $9 million, mostly to build the NASA-themed United States Science Exhibit. Several foreign governments provided an international flavor, though the tense geopolitical mood of the early 1960s limited participation. The Soviet Union declined to participate, and the People's Republic of China, North Vietnam, and North Korea were not invited.

Photo exhibit on the construction of the Space Needle, Seattle, Washington
Photo exhibit on the construction of the Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

Much of the site for the Century 21 Exposition was already city property, with a large chunk intended for a civic center that had not been built. Some land had been donated to the city and a school and a fire station were demolished. Some of the land had held some of the city's oldest houses, apartments, and commercial buildings, known as the Warren Avenue Slum, which were purchased and demolished. Construction was active all throughout 1961 and early 1962: of course, construction of the Space Needle caught everyone's attention. Meanwhile, civic boosters and marketers worked all over the country to get as much early press coverage as possible. You could read stories everywhere, from Life magazine to The New York Times. All of it was designed to get people planning vacations to Seattle to see the wonders of the future. Many big name politicians also planned and made stops, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bobby Kennedy. But one of the great disappointments was that President John F. Kennedy never visited the fair while it was open. President Kennedy was scheduled to open the Century 21 Exposition in April of 1962, but did so remotely by telephone. The White House promised the president would return for the fair’s closing in October but he had to claim a "heavy cold" and beg off, as he was dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Seattle Center Monorail entering fairgrounds through the MoPop building
Seattle Center Monorail entering fairgrounds through the MoPop building, 2018

So let’s get ourselves over to the fair! I traveled the Seattle Center Monorail from downtown Seattle to the fairgrounds, just the way it was planned. The original Monorail cars still look shiny and almost new 56 years and over one million miles of service after their inaugural run. In 2014, it carried roughly two million passengers from the downtown station to Seattle Center. It’s actually a good way to see some of Seattle, riding above street level. It used to end rather undramatically at the fair grounds, but now it bursts through the MoPop museum building, which was constructed around the Monorail in 2004. I think it makes MoPop look like a curtain fluttering around the Monorail whenever a train enters the Seattle Center. Alweg Rapid Transit Systems of Sweden constructed the monorail, which is 1.3 miles long. Seattle has discussed extending the line many times over the years, but nothing has been done. Alweg was also the builder of the original Disneyland Monorail System in California, which opened in 1959. Both systems remain operational. A third system, built in Turin, Italy for the Italia 61 Exposition, was destroyed by a fire in the late 1970s. Alweg's technology was also licensed in 1960 by Hitachi Monorail, which continues to construct monorails around the world.

Seattle Center Monorail interior
view of the Seattle Center Monorail interior, 2018

The monorail opened a month before the fair, moving its first passengers on March 24, 1962. The original fare was $1 per trip, which is more than $8 in today’s money! The current fare is only $2.50. The Monorail was privately operated and like the fair, it was profitable, carrying 8 million guests in its first six months. The system was sold to the city in 1965. Despite the fact that I took the ride as a tourist, Seattle Monorail Services General Manager Thomas Ditty notes that most riders are locals. He says their biggest weekends are Seattle special event weekends and that there are monthly pass holders that use the train to commute. There originally was another ride that began near where the Monorail ended, the Skyride. It ran a series of bucket shaped gondolas about 60 feet above the fair for about a quarter mile over to the International Mall area. The Skyride was moved to the Puyallup Fairgrounds, site of the Washington State Fair, in 1980, where it is still operating. Stop by and have a ride during the fair, the first three weeks of September!

Official map of the Seattle World’s Fair Century 21 Exposition
Official map of the Seattle World’s Fair Century 21 Exposition (From Jordan Smith, The Cardboard America Archives, used by permission)

Once on the grounds, I should buy an official guide book, they’re only $1.00. A lot of the information I’ll list below comes from the book. So, where to next? The fair was divided into various areas, much like a theme park. In no particular order, there were The World of Science, The World of Commerce and Industry, The World of Art, The World of Entertainment, Show Street, The World of Tomorrow in the Washington State Coliseum, and two shopping areas, Boulevards of the World and the Exhibit Fair. I began my day with the biggest thing left from 1962, the Space Needle! The Space Needle is in The World of Commerce and Industry section. (I would have expected a World of Tomorrow area, but it turns out that that was an indoor exhibit…more on that later.) The Space Needle began as an idea by Seattle World’s Fair Commission chair Edward E. “Eddie” Carlson while he was visiting Stuttgart, Germany in 1959. Eddie Carlson, who was also a vice president of Western Hotels, and he and his wife dined with friends in a restaurant at the top of a 400-foot TV tower there. He marveled at the idea that people would actually pay for an elevator ride just to get to a restaurant, and then pay high prices for a meal. The fact inspired him to doodle the idea of a "flying saucer" restaurant on the top of a tower for the World’s Fair.

Space Needle with matching streetlight on World’s Fair grounds
Space Needle with matching streetlight on World’s Fair grounds, 2018

Once back in Seattle, Eddie Carlson pitched the idea to others on the fair board and was put in touch with architect John Graham Jr., who had recently completed a revolving restaurant in Honolulu, Hawaii. He proposed a similar revolving restaurant to provide patrons with an ever-changing view of the city while they ate. Graham assembled a design team who played with concepts such as a saucer-capped spire to a structure resembling a tethered balloon before settling on the now familiar curved tower and crown-shapped restaurant. The county declined to fund the project and so a group of private investors was formed which included the architect and Wright Construction, who eventually constructed the tower. Eddie Carlson committed Western Hotels to run the facility and its restaurant. The developers purchased the site from the City of Seattle, began construction, and the entire facility is still privately owned today. The Space Needle actually opened early, in December 1961 and originally included a natural gas flame at the top. The restaurant still completes a full revolution every 58 minutes, powered by only a 1.5 horsepower electric motor. The Space Needle has withstood both the Columbus Day windstorm of October 1962 and a 1965 earthquake without damage.

View from Space Needle looking north
View from Space Needle looking north, 2018

Throughout 2017 and into late 2018, the Space Needle underwent a $100 million renovation. It was nearly finished when I visited in July, 2018, but some construction equipment was still on site and some interior areas were closed, including the SkyCity Restaurant at the top. Over the years, changes to improve safety, by adding “pony walls” and cages, had restricted the views from the top. All of this was removed and replaced with new exterior glass barriers with angled glass benches on the outer open-air Observation Deck. You can now lean against the clear glass wall of the outer observation deck and look down to the city below. The interior of the Observation deck also had brand new floor-to-ceiling glass walls, but the open circular stairway and glass-floored view of the elevators and structure of the Space Needle were not yet finished.

Paul Horiuchi's mosaic mural at Seattle Center, Seattle, Washington, 2018
Paul Horiuchi's mosaic mural at Seattle Center, Seattle, Washington, 2018

The other buildings and exhibits in The World of Commerce and Industry section included the Mural Amphitheater, the Hall of Industry, the Interiors, Fashion, and Commerce Building, and even 15 governmental exhibitors surrounding the World of Tomorrow. These are all gone today, but in 1962 we would have seen exhibits ranging from 32 different furniture companies, Ford Motor Company, and Bell Telephone, to the Encyclopædia Britannica. One I wish was still around was the Electric Power Pavilion, which included a 40 foot-high fountain styled to look like a hydroelectric dam, with the entrance to the pavilion through a tunnel in the dam! The World of Tomorrow was the largest and most diverse of the five themed areas and also included some futuristic exhibits like a wall-size television, home and car of the future, and electronic library exhibit. Near the center of this area was Seattle artist Paul Horiuchi's mosaic mural, which now forms the backdrop of the current Seattle Center's Mural Amphitheater. Foreign exhibits included Great Britain’s science and technology exhibit, Mexico and Peru handicrafts exhibits, and Japan and India showing their national cultures. Of course, you could not escape world politics during the Cold War, as the Taiwan and South Korea pavilions touted the benefits of capitalism over communism.

United States Science Pavilion towers, now the Pacific Science Center
United States Science Pavilion towers, now the Pacific Science Center, 2018

The nearby World of Science area surrounded the United States Science Pavilion, which included a NASA exhibit that included models and mockups of various satellites, as well as the Project Mercury capsule that carried astronaut Alan Shepard. There was an exhibit on the development of science, with every field from mathematics to genetics (in 1962!). The Spacearium was a theatre that held up to 750 people for a simulated voyage through the Solar System and then through the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond. Other exhibits included the “House of Science”, “Development of Science”, “Methods of Science”, and a glimpse of the future at “The Horizons of Science”. I didn’t spend time at the current Pacific Science Center due to other interests competing for my time, but based on other modern science centers I have seen, I’m sure that it would have provided an experience worthy of the former Worlds’ Fair exhibits.

Aerial view of Seattle World’s Fair, looking southerly, postcard ca. 1962
Aerial view of Seattle World’s Fair, looking southerly, ca. 1962 (Postcard from an online auction.)

The Washington State Coliseum, seen at the right in the postcard above, was a sort of combination of The World of Science and The World of Commerce and Industry, housing exhibits from both. The major exhibit was Washington State’s World of Tomorrow, billed as a tour of the future. Here was a round, see-through elevator called the Bubbleator, a display of a future home with a personal gyrocopter for commuting, a display of an automated plankton harvesting farm in the ocean, future schools with electronic knowledge storage, future offices with electronic communications, and rather incongruently in my opinion, a display of a 1962 family in their fallout shelter. Other exhibits in the building included those from France, Pan Am, General Motors, the American Library Association, and RCA. The Washington State Coliseum is now Key Arena. It is used for entertainment purposes, such as concerts, ice shows, circuses, and sporting events. It was first converted to sporting events and became the home of the Seattle SuperSonics in 1967. It was rebuilt between 1994 and 1995 to bring the arena up to NBA standards of the time, such as lowering the court 35 feet below street level to allow for 3,000 more seats. The Seattle SuperSonics continued to play there until 2008. Key Arena became home for the WNBA Seattle Storm in 2002 and they still play there. Recently, an investment group has been in negotiations to once again renovate the city-owned KeyArena. The group is also negotiating for an NHL franchise and expects to have either an NBA or NHL team within three years.

Paul Bunyan Birthday Cake, 1962 Seattle World's Fair  postcard
The World's Largest Birthday Cake, the Paul Bunyan Birthday Cake - 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Postcard from Jordan Smith, The Cardboard America Archives, used by permission.)

I should stop for lunch sometime, so let’s look in at the Food Circus. The Food Circus was a food court inside the former Armory Building, situated in the center of the fairgrounds. Today, part of the building houses the Seattle Children’s Museum and part is performance space, where over 3,000 free public performances occur every year. Much of the main floor is again a food court, and that’s where I’m heading. The Armory was built in 1939 and was originally home to Seattle’s 146th Field Artillery. Though the current arrangement has food vendors around the outer edges with tables filling the center and a stage for shows at one end, the 1962 arrangement also had many food concessionaires throughout the center. There were 52 vendors in all, and nine of them had exhibits in addition to serving food. One of the more interesting exhibits was the Paul Bunyan Birthday Cake presented by Clark’s Restaurant Enterprises and baked by Van de Kamp’s Holland Dutch Bakers of Seattle. It was presented in celebration of the American folklore character Paul Bunyan’s 128th birthday. The cake stood 23 feet high and used 4000 pounds of sugar just for the frosting! It was a fruitcake and also contained over 7000 pounds of raisins and a ton of pecans. During the course of the fair, slices were boxed and sold both on site and by mail. There was nothing so spectacular when I ate here this summer, and the fair rides and many exhibit buildings are gone. But there are still plenty of people: I had to wait over 20 minutes just to order lunch!

Space Needle and tower of glass by Dale Chihuly, Seattle, Washington
Space Needle and tower of glass by Dale Chihuly, Seattle, Washington, 2018

I didn’t find anything remaining from The World of Art section of the fair. This was a temporary fine arts exhibit assembled from 61 museums from around the world and displayed in the Fine Arts Pavilion. In addition to loaned masterpieces by such artists as Michelangelo, Titian, Renoir, Rembrandt, Rubens, Picasso, and Homer, there were works from 50 contemporary American artists including Willem de Kooning, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, and Frank Stella. Local Washington artists were also represented and a separate gallery presented Northwest Coast Indian art. Instead of these exhibits, I visited the current fine art exhibit on the grounds: Chihuly Garden and Glass. This amazing exhibit of glass is housed both inside and in the garden of a new building on the site of the former Gayway, the amusement park area of the fair. Chihuly Garden and Glass opened in 2011 and his works have a connection to 1962.

Dark room exhibit at Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington
Dark room exhibit at Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington, 2018

Dale Chihuly is world-renowned for his large-scale, innovative works of blown glass. If you only see one thing in Seattle, this should be it. And if you find any of his installations anywhere else near you, you should see those also. Dale Chihuly was born in nearby Tacoma, Washington in 1941 and was studying interior design at the University of Washington, in 1961. There, he learned how to melt and fuse glass and some basic blown glass techniques. But at that time, there was no recognized curricula or university training in glass blowing, so in 1962, he dropped out of school to study art in Florence, Italy. He became frustrated by his inability to speak Italian, so he moved on to study in the Middle East. There he met architect Robert Landsman, who helped convince him to return to his studies. In 1963, he took a weaving class where he incorporated glass shards into tapestries. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. But how did the University of Wisconsin come to create a glass studies program during those few years?

Ceiling exhibit at Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington
Ceiling exhibit at Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington, 2018

One of the instructors at the University of Wisconsin. Harvey Littleton, had been dabbling in glass for a few years and was trying to get grants to set up a hot glass studio program at the university. When no grants had been received by the fall of 1961, Otto Wittmann, director of the Toledo Museum of Art, suggested that Littleton consider giving a glassblowing seminar at the museum. Glass research scientist Dominick Labino, who worked in Toledo, was brought in and developed a small, inexpensive furnace in which glass could be melted and worked, making it affordable for artists to blow glass in independent studios. A temporary glass-blowing facility was established in a storage shed on the museum grounds and the first of two workshops was held there in March 1962, with the second in June of that year. Afterwards, Labino set up his own glass studio on his farm near Grand Rapids, Ohio and Harvey Littleton traveled to Europe to research how glass making was taught in universities there. He found nothing. Students were not taught hands-on techniques as the craft of working with hot glass was still taught only at the factories, under the apprenticeship system. During the 1963 semesters, Littleton taught glass in a garage at his own farm under an independent study program. By the following year, because of the success of the Toledo workshops and that independent study course, he had finally secured University of Wisconsin funding to rent and equip an off-campus hot shop in Madison, Wisconsin and authorization to offer a graduate level glass course. That was the course that Dale Chihuly enrolled in and the studio glass movement rolled on from these 1962 beginnings.

I’ve mentioned the rides at the fair in 1962 had occupied an area called The Gayway. The area featured 19 rides, loosely in a space theme. Many were the same rides you would have found at any county fair or small amusement park of the time, including Calypso, Rotor, Scrambler, and Wild Mouse. The ferris wheel was named the Space Wheel and the Tilt-A-Whirl was named the Space Whirl to fit the theme. A few other rides had spacey names but I don’t know what kind of rides they were: Flight to Mars and Galaxi. As I mentioned before, the Skyride carried you from the Monorail station over to the International exhibits. If you wanted to walk, you would pass through The World of Entertainment area.

Gracie Hansen's Paradise International at 1962 Seattle World’s Fair postcard
Gracie Hansen's Paradise International at 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (Postcard from Jordan Smith, The Cardboard America Archives, used by permission.)

Walking off the Gayway, the World of Entertainment began with a water-skiing show in the stadium, produced by Tommy Bartlett of Wisconsin Dells fame. They built a canal wide enough for about 8 skiers and a power boat pulled several pretty girl skiers around the circuit. It was called an Aquadrome and photos show a pyramid of skiers zooming around it. Considering the producer and the type of shows he was known for, I’m sure they did a jump or two. The stadium seated 12,000 and presented a wide array of entertainment. The stadium remains but the Aquadrome was filled in long ago. To one side of the stadium was the Hawaii Pavilion, a Japanese Village, and the Paris Spectacular wax museum. Other entertainment ranged from a boxing championship to an international baton twirling competition, from ballet to jazz, and a number of nationally and internationally known performers at both the Opera House and Playhouse. After the fair, the Playhouse became the Seattle Repertory Theatre until the mid-1980s, when it became the Intiman Playhouse. It is still an important performance venue in Seattle as Cornish College of the Arts took over the lease from the city and now operates it as the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center. Also in this section was Show Street, an “adult entertainment” portion of the fair. In the far northeast corner was Gracie Hansen's Paradise International, which was a Las Vegas-style floor show, and LeRoy Prinz's "Backstage USA" next door. At "Backstage USA” you walked through what appeared to be the stage door of a theater and saw the on-stage performance from the stagehands’ side, including views into the performers‘ dressing rooms. Sid and Marty Krofft, later known for the H.R. Pufnstuf TV show, had an adults-only puppet show, Les Poupées de Paris. There was also a show featuring naked "Girls of the Galaxy". I suspect they were all from Earth.

Original Seattle World’s Fair International Fountain at night
Original Seattle World’s Fair International Fountain at night (Public domain photo Item No: 73084, courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives.)

Walking around, we would also have seen the two shopping districts of the fair, the Boulevards of the World and Exhibit Fair. The central feature of this area was the International Fountain, with the State Flag Plaza to one side. An art competition was held to find a design for this central feature, and one idea was a large moat with gondolas floating in it. Instead, the more abstract fountain won the competition for a “light, water and sculpture display”. The designers, Kazuyuki Matsushita and Hideki Shimizu, were from Japan, adding to the international focus of the fair. It has been described as an underwater mine in a blast crater or a sea urchin but the official description from the Museum of History and Industry claims it symbolizes mankind's efforts to explore the farthest reaches of outer space. In any event, the original fountain had over 20 spouts and was programmed to change patterns accompanied by recorded music. As with many features of the Seattle World’s Fair, it was later modified. The central spout feature was changed in 1995 from a dark metal ball with hard nozzles to a smooth silvery metal ball with interior nozzles, and is now climbed upon safely by hordes of children every year. The International Fountain's engineering was updated and computerized by the designers of the Bellagio Hotel Fountains, Las Vegas, Nevada. The so-called Super Shooter nozzles shoot 120 feet high and there are 4 of these, 56 Micro Shooters, 77 “Fleur-de-lis” and 137 mist nozzles.

Astro Ray Gun from Ohio Art, 2018 model
Astro Ray Gun from Ohio Art, 2018 model (originally produced in 1962)

Today, the main shopping area is at the foot of the Space Needle, near the Monorail station, as that is the main tourist arrival area. There are food vendors here in addition to those in the Armory Building, along with all sorts of souvenirs. The interior gift shop at the Space Needle is an especially fertile place for souvenirs, with both modern and retro gifts. And of course you can buy models of the Space Needle in just about any size and material you want! I saw metal, plastic, cardboard and inflatable versions, along with puzzles, pet squeak toys, and dozens of different mugs, glasses and bottles. You can buy space needle foods ranging from pasta and chocolates to coffee and lollipops. They have plush toys, lighted toys, retro toys, and good old standbys like books and postcards. I couldn’t resist completely: I bought a postcard. (If I were still 9, like I was in 1962, I’m sure I would have wanted the Astro Ray Gun!)

waiting for the train, Seattle Center Monorail station
the author waiting for the train, Seattle Center Monorail station, 2018

Time to leave the fair now, though we’ll see some other relics of the fair later as far away as the Pacific Ocean town of Ocean Shores. As I head back downtown on the Seattle Center Monorail I’m surprised again at how shiny and new the whole system looks. Even the ticket booths have a look and feel as if the World’s Fair just opened. We go back out through the MoPop building, which I didn’t talk about when we came in. The MopPop collection focuses on rock and other music of the 20th century, science fiction in television and movies, and video games. The building was designed by Frank O. Gehry, who began his own architectural practice in Los Angeles, California in 1962. Some of his most famous buildings include the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

American Home of the Immediate Future at the Seattle World’s Fair
American Home of the Immediate Future at the Seattle World’s Fair (Public domain photo courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives.)

I kind of hate to leave the fairgrounds, so I’ll mention a part of the fair that has also left. I discovered that one building from the fair has been moved to another location, the “American Home of the Immediate Future”. This was originally an exhibit of the US Plywood Association, to showcase all the new innovations in home construction that were possible with plywood. It was originally located adjacent to what is now the Seattle Children's Theater at Seattle Center, but has been moved to near the corner of SE 70th Place and East Mercer Way on Mercer Island, where it is being used as an actual residence. One of the home’s innovations facilitated its relocation: it consisted of sections prebuilt by the PanelBild Division of US Plywood that were bolted together on the destination lot. This allowed for easy disassembly and reinstallation when moved. Of all the smaller buildings from the fair, this is the only one still used for its original purpose. The home is now in the hands of its third owners, who bought it in 1990. At that time, the master bedroom was still painted the original orange from the fair.

Seattle Center Monorail ticket booths
Seattle Center Monorail ticket booths, 2018

After spending the night at the Edgewater Hotel, we get up the next morning to take a short roadtrip out from Seattle, to see some more remnants of the World’s Fair. We’re heading to Tacoma, Washington first and then to the Pacific Ocean at Ocean Shores, Washington. Now you’re probably curious about what we’ll find, but first a story about how the fair affected the Seattle area. It seems the whole town celebrated the World’ Fair all year long, including local musicians, radio DJs, and bar-goers. Thus, the city’s own song, “Wasn’t That A Mighty Day When The Needle Hit The Ground” became a big local phenomenon. A young singing duo known as Mike & Maggie recorded this song in a bar, in the best folk song style of the day. The song tells the tale of what happens when too many men crowd to one window of the observation deck at top, to view a woman undressing in another building, which of course causes the entire Space Needle to crash and roll. Records sold briskly and the song got a lot of local airplay, along with another local song, “See You In Seattle” by Joy & The Boys.


“Wasn’t That A Mighty Day When The Needle Hit The Ground”


I’m taking US-99 south to Tacoma, instead of the recently completed I-5 freeway. I’m stopping for an early lunch on my way west, as I imagine many folks did between Seattle and the coast in 1962. And that’s because of a real old-fashioned burger drive-in in the northwest part of Tacoma. Frisko Freeze has been here since 1950, serving milkshakes, fries, and burgers still greasy from the grill in wax paper wrappers. You can just feel that this was the place for a teenager’s first date or meeting place after high school football games. It’s across from the Kaiser Permanente Tacoma Medical Center hospital, so it’s easy to see how this small, neighborhood place has stayed in business this long. I ordered the standard hamburger, which is served with mustard, mayo, green relish, lettuce, and onion. It’s the only burger I’ve ever had where the mustard is the major condiment and that gives it a unique flavor. I skipped the fries and ordered the onion rings, which were big, crunchy, and delicious. And since they custom made the shakes and malts, I had butterscotch instead of chocolate and a malt instead of a shake. It was great: I could taste the malt! The customer is always outdoors here: you have the option to drive up to the order window and then park to wait for your food, or to park first and then walk up to the order window. I got here after lunch and the parking lot was empty, so I parked first and walked over. There is no seating, so you eat in your car. Or if you want a nice place to picnic with your food, Wright Park is only eight blocks away. The park has good flower plantings, a pond with ducks, and a small conservatory, the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory. A great place to enjoy your lunch and the flowers.

Frisko Freeze drive-in, Tacoma, Washington
Frisko Freeze drive-in, Tacoma, Washington, 2018

The Puyallup Fairgrounds, new home of the Skyride, are not too far from Tacoma, but as that fair wasn’t open when I visited this summer, let’s continue to Olympia, Washington. There we visit another enduring legacy from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Tumwater Falls Park, on the Deschutes River, was created specifically to try to entice visitors to the fair to come down to Olympia and spend some money in town. The Olympia Brewing Company and the Schmidt family who owned it had a foundation to fund philanthropic projects for their hometown. Learning of the impending Seattle fair in 1961, the foundation’s board saw an opportunity in the traffic flowing to the fair on the new freeway. The I-5 freeway runs adjacent to the brewery and the river. Brewery tours were very popular at the time, but there was no nearby park area where families could relax before or afterward. In its early years, about 400,000 people visited each year, which is now down to about 250,000. It’s a relatively quiet green space in the middle of the city, with a playground, picnic tables, and paths along and across the river. The park is still owned by the Olympia Tumwater Foundation and was constructed and continues to operate with no public money. The paths take you past waterfalls and give a view of a canyon below. You can watch migrating salmon in season, including viewing them right under your feet through a grated path!

Tumwater Falls Park, Deschutes River, Olympia, Washington
Tumwater Falls Park, Deschutes River, Olympia, Washington, 2018

Continuing west after Olympia, I find that US-410 would have joined us in 1962. That number is gone today, replaced by a handful of various state and US numbers. We would have followed US-410 all the way to Aberdeen, Washington, but now follow a state highway for a while until we reach US-12. As I noted in my article about highway US-12, it currently runs from Detroit, Michigan to Aberdeen, Washington, 2,491 miles. In 1962, the west end was way back at Lewiston, Idaho. Where we reach the end of US-12, Roadtrip-'62 ™ has to leave the US-numbered highways and travel WA-9c out to Ocean Shores, Washington. It’s there that we find the last piece from the Seattle World’s Fair, the wreck of the S.S. Catala. The Catala was a 229-foot ship built in Scotland in 1925, which saw passenger service until 1958 in British Columbia, Canada. In 1961 the Catala was purchased and towed to Seattle, where it was refurbished as a floating hotel for the World’s Fair. It had with 52 staterooms, a restaurant and lounge. Two other ships, the Dominion Monarch and the Acapulco were also outfitted to serve as floating hotels, but the Catala was the only one to make a profit and stay for the entire run of the fair.

S.S. Catala floating hotel boat, beached in Ocean Shores, Washington postcard
S.S. Catala floating hotel boat, beached in Ocean Shores, Washington (Portion of postcard from online auction.)

After the fair, it was towed out to sea again and down to Ocean Shores, where it operated as charter fishing base, hotel, and restaurant for two more years. Its career was ended during a storm on January 1, 1965, which grounded the Catala and set it on its side. Numerous attempts to re-float the ship failed, causing it to become known locally as the "Tilting Ship". It eventually became too dangerous to climb around, so in 1980 the stacks and cabin decks were cut off at the sand line and the remainder of the ship was buried in the sand. However, in 2006 another severe storm uncovered it! This time it was completely excavated and cut up because of concern that oil from onboard tanks would begin leaking. The nearby Coastal Interpretive Center has displays of the S.S. Catala and several other local shipwreck stories. The Coastal Interpretive Center began operation in 1977 in a building that had originally been a land sales office for Ocean Shores in 1962. Artifacts from the Catala include the original galley doors, samples of china dishes, Captain’s deck logs, numerous photos, and even a piece of the hull.

That’s all from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, also known as the Century 21 Exposition. But if you haven’t seen enough, go see the fair yourself in the video below!


“Century 21 Calling – 1962”


All photos by the author and Copyright © 2018, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2018, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.

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Please visit our sponsors, some of whom were open to serve you in 1962, and others selling great products from that year. Buy from them today and keep Roadtrip-'62 ™ here to read again, and again!

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Lonestar Comics

More Fun Stuff:

What's the weather in 1962?

Weather on September 18, 1962 for Seattle, WA, from the National Climatic Data Center:

  • Low = 50°F
  • High = 76°F
  • Precipitation = none
  • Mean Wind Speed = 6mph

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Here's your chance to buy some actual stuff from 1962! Have Fun!

  eBay new-old eBay collectibles

Please visit these sponsors, some of whom were open to serve you in 1962, and others selling great products from that year.

Perdue Farms Personalized MY M&M'S® Candies  Dream Home Hale Groves Crest White Smile

Please visit these sponsors, some of whom were open to serve you in 1962, and others selling great products from that year.

Roadtrip-'62 Calendar Dover Books Milne Enterprises Avenza store

Please visit these sponsors, some of whom were open to serve you in 1962, and others selling great products from that year.

Kitchen Aid magazines Russell Stover
Your Ad Here

Check out these fine folks in our retro public service announcement.


Smokey Bear is the longest running public service ad campaign in Ad Council history, running since 1944. At the beginning, Walt Disney loaned Bambi for use on a poster for one year, but that image proved so popular that it is still being used. The original message was slightly different, as "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires." I hope you enjoy this ad, similar to what you might have seen in 1962, and heed Smokey's message.

Smokey Bear Ad