Today’s historic-preservation outrage involves the Jefferson Park Golf Course clubhouse. It’s a magnificent structure, “homey” yet elegant, that’s served city residents for more than 75 years. The City wants to raze it to put up a new driving range. It’s rushing through a plan to deny landmark status to the building, in cahoots with the architects that are planning the redevelopment scheme.
The first human on the moon turned out to be just two weeks younger than my mother.
The “Space Race,” begun with the Soviet Sputnik satellite’s launch, was only four months younger than me.
I was 12 when Apollo 11 landed. The perfect impressionable age for a young male.
The moon landing meant to me what it meant to a lot of guys my age:
The ultimate adventure.
The first steps of “Man” to a strange new world.
The first day of a new era.
I don’t have to tell you things turned out differently.
But we still dream.
Particularly during the 50th anniversary of the Century 21 Exposition.
As part of that, Pacific Northwest Ballet’s staging a “Celebrate Seattle” event on Sept. 16, with astronauts real (Cady Coleman) and fictional (Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols). The Ballet’s orchestra will play parts of Holst’s The Planets and Dvorak’s Song to the Moon.
It’s good to remember yesterday’s future.
But let’s also build ourselves some new dreams for a real future.
A future in which the work of Armstrong and the entire NASA team behind him will not have been in vain.
Let’s admit it, skepticism does have a way to make us feel intellectually superior to others. They are the ones believing in absurd notions like UFOs, ghosts, and the like! We are on the side of science and reason. Except when we aren’t, which ought to at least give us pause and enroll in the nearest hubris-reducing ten-step program.
google earth via rhizome.org
ford 'seattle-ite xxi' car display at the world's fair; uw special collections via edmonds beacon
bradbury in a stan freberg-directed prune commercial (1969); via io9.com
The author who, as much as anyone, turned science fiction into a mass-audience genre kept at it until the bitter end. After his last stroke he could no longer operate a keyboard, so he dictated stories to his daughter via a landline phone.
In 2003 I participated in a panel discussion at the Tacoma Public Library, premised on Bradbury’sFahrenheit 451 and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I argued against the ol’ grossly oversimplified stereotype of “books = good, TV = evil,” as advocated by Postman and others.
I said that words were more important to society than before (and they’re even more important now); and that the human race needs “entertainment” storytelling (the kind at which Bradbury was a master) as much as it needs more hi-brow cultural artifacts.
Bradbury’s works proved that commercial stories in formula genres could express tons of truths about the human condition.
irwin allen's 'the time tunnel' (1966), via scaryfilm.blogspot.com
…building businesses whose only way of making money will be through advertising. Are there as many different ways to slice things as all the startups, collectively, would have you believe? And when they’re done, what will happen to them?
sonics first-year pennant, available at gasoline alley antiques
painting the needle for its big b-day party
Keith Seinfeld at KPLU recently asked, “Why does Seattle still care about the world’s fair?”
That’s an excellent question.
As international expos go, Seattle’s was relatively small.
And it took place a full half century ago.
Until Mad Men came along, that era was widely considered to have been a dullsville time, a time wtih nothing much worth remembering.
The “Space Age” predicted at the fair would seem would seem ridiculous just a few years later. It predicted domed cities and cheap nuclear power. It predicted computers in the home (in the form of fridge-sized consoles) and video conferencing (with a special “picturephone”), but it didn’t predict the Internet.
It sure didn’t predict the racial, sexual, musical, and social upheavals collectively known as “The Sixties.”
And a lot of the fair’s attractions were so utterly corny, you can wonder why they were taken seriously even then. Attractions such as the world’s largest fruitcake. Or the Bubbleator (essentially just a domed platform on a hydraulic lift). Or the adults-only risqué puppet show (by the future producers of H.R. Pufnstuf).
Yet a lot of us do care about all that. And not just us old-timers either.
And not just for the physical structures the fair left behind (the Space Needle, the Science Center, etc.).
The fair was the single most important thing that happened in Seattle between World War II and the rise of Microsoft. (The launch of the Boeing 707 was the next most important.)
The fair revved up the whole Northwest tourism industry, just as jet aircraft and Interstate highways were getting more Americans to explore other parts of their nation. This once-remote corner of the country became a top destination.
The fair was a coming-out party for a new Seattle.
A Seattle dominated not by timber and fishing but by tech. Specifically, by aerospace. Boeing had only a secondary role in equipping the U.S. space program, but its planes were already making Earth a seemingly smaller place.
The fair didn’t start the Seattle arts and performance scenes, but it gave them a new oomph.
Seattle Opera and the Seattle Repertory Theatre were immediately established in the fair’s wake.
ACT Theatre came soon after. Visual art here was already becoming famous, thanks to the “Northwest School” painters; the fair’s legacy led to increased local exposure to both local and national artists.
The fair established a foothold for modern architecture here.
Before the fair, there hadn’t been a major change to Seattle’s skyline since the Smith Tower in 1914. (The few new downtown buildings were relatively short, such as the 19-story Norton Building.)
The Space Needle became the city’s defining icon, instantly and forever.
The U.S. Science Pavilion (now Pacific Science Center) established the career of Seattle-born architect Minoru Uamasaki, who later designed the former World Trade Center.
Speaking of tragedy and turmoil, some commentators have described the fair’s era as “a simpler time.”
The Cuban missile crisis, revealed just after the fair ended, threatened to turn the cold war hot.
The whole Vietnam debacle was getting underway.
The civil rights and black power movements were quickly gaining traction.
The birth control pill was just entering widespread use.
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, which helped launch the U.S. environmental movement, came out while the fair was on.
So yes, there were big issues and conflicts in 1962.
But there was also something else.
There was optimism.
In every exhibit and display at the fair, there was the notion that humans could work together to solve things.
And, at least at the fair, most everything was considered solveable.
I wrote in 1997, at the fair’s 35th anniversary, that its creators sincerely felt Americas would strive “to ensure mass prosperity (without socialism), strengthen science, popularize education, advance minority rights, and promote artistic excellence.”
It’s that forward-looking confidence that got lost along the road from the Century 21 Exposition to the 21st century.
It’s something many of us would like to see more of these days.
And that, more than Belgian waffles or an Elvis movie, is why Seattle still cares about the World’s Fair.
And why you should too.
(Cross posted with City Living.)
souvenir display at the world's fair anniversary exhibition
My pals at HistoryLink.org have put together a weighty historical coffee table tome called The Future Remembered.
It’s all about the Century 21 Exposition, the Seattle world’s fair that began 50 years ago this April.
It’s 300 pages of insightful prose and luscious pictures concerning what is still probably the single most important event that ever happened here in Software City.
It’s proof of what a physical book can still be—an object of desire. (And a handy blunt instrument, should you need one.)
It gives you most of the individual subplots of the fair’s story, from the miraculously perfect design of the Space Needle to the erotic puppet show (by the future producers of Land of the Lost!).
These sub-stories are woven around a main narrative line, about a cabal of squarer-than-square civic boosters who pulled off a staggering feat of a spectacle, something that melded both high art and mass entertainment into one vision of a sleek modern tomorrow (that mostly still hasn’t shown up).
And it even turned a small profit, and left a 74-acre arts-and-recreation campus in the middle of town.
You should all look it up, check it out, even get one for your very own.
Indeed, there’s only only one small mini-gripe I’ve got with the document.
There’s a two page spread saluting “Women At Century 21.”
It honors Gracie Hansen (the brassy small-town hostess who ran one of the fair’s burlesque revues), Laurene Gandy (wife of fair exec Joe Gandy and a tireless worker for both the fair and the subsequent Seattle Center), and the other male execs’ wives (billed collectively as “Our Fair Ladies”).
But one prominent woman is not mentioned in the spread. Or in the entire book.
Dr. Dixy Lee Ray (1914-1994) was a marine biologist, a UW prof, and a science-ed host on KCTS.
Ray worked as a “science advisor” to the United States Science Pavilion at the fair. In this role, she was the pavilion’s chief spokesperson to the local media.
She then became the first head of the pavilion’s post-fair entity, the Pacific Science Center.
From there she became the highest ranking woman in Richard Nixon’s Executive Branch (running the Atomic Energy Commission).
From there she successfully ran for governor in 1976 as a “flag of convenience” Democrat.
Then she proceeded on an anti-environmentalist agenda, alienated just about the entire state Democratic Party, and lost her re-election bid in the 1980 primary.
Ray left behind a lot of political opponents.
And, admittedly, her later role with the Science Center held more authority than her role with the Science Pavilion.
But she should not be written out of the fair’s history.