Tuesday , February 20 2024
An outstanding account of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, and the legacy it left behind.

Book Review: The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair And Its Legacy by Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein

For starters, I just have to say that The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair And Its Legacy is an absolutely gorgeous book. For area residents such as myself, the book has an obvious appeal. But it is much more than simply a beautiful memento of a huge event in local history. Although the Cold War was in many ways at its “hottest” point in 1962, there was also an incredible sense of optimism about the future. The Century 21 Exposition (as the Fair was officially called) reflected this.

The most lasting monument to all that the Expo represented is The Space Needle. Long before Starbucks, Microsoft, or grunge, when most people thought about Seattle (if at all), it was the Space Needle that probably came to mind. As silly as it sounds, it is our Eiffel Tower — even if it does look like it was lifted straight out of The Jetsons.

Although The Future Remembered is an over-sized, coffee-table book, there is plenty of text, and the story of how the Seattle World’s Fair came to be is quite a tale. The initial impetus for it goes all the way back to 1955, with plans to celebrate the golden anniversary of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. It was to be a relatively small-scale “Festival of the West,” set to occur in 1959.

The world changed on October 4, 1957 with the Soviet’s launch of Sputnik. The sudden realization that the Cold War had entered a new and much more frightening phase was lost on nobody. The acronym MAD, which stood for “Mutually Assured Destruction” was appropriate, because that is where the world stood. While I in no way mean to minimize the very real casualties of war in Korea, Vietnam, and other disputed areas, a great deal of The Cold War was a war of propaganda as well. The Space Race was on.

The Seattle World’s Fair went from being something of a celebration of the growth of the Western United States, to the Century 21 Exposition — where our dominance of all things “futuristic” was to be shown off. The project quickly grew into an opportunity to present the U.S. as the world’s leader in technology. With this new focus in mind, big Federal dollars started rolling in — and things that the city of Seattle itself would never have been able to fund alone, started to be considered.

Besides the Space Needle, the Monorail remains a lasting Century 21 Exposition addition to the city. For all intents and purposes, it is pointless. The Monorail runs on elevated lines, for a little over a mile — from the Seattle Center, to Westlake Center (which is a downtown mall), and back. It is undeniably cool, but serves no purpose other than as a tourist attraction.

The Seattle Center itself serves in many ways as our version of New York’s Central Park. It is 74 acres in size, and while not quite in the center of Seattle, it is close enough to warrant the designation. Key Arena (which was originally called The Coliseum) has hosted thousands of concerts over the years, as well being the former home as our sadly departed Seattle SuperSonics basketball team. The Pacific Science Center is another wonderful legacy of the Exposition.

In many ways, The Seattle Center is the beating heart of Seattle. There have been far too many additions and subtractions to go into here, and that information is more appropriate for a study of the city as a whole, rather than in this celebration of the 21st Century Exposition. Still, The Future Remembered does discuss the ongoing role the Fair continues to have on the city.

There is a story told here that is fascinating in scope. Part of this is the historical context, which is written in an informative, yet very entertaining style. The other is the plethora of photos, diagrams, and ephemera that fill the 300 large-sized pages. Whether one’s interest is simply a well-written discussion of the origins of a local landmark, or as the best source for information regarding a very specific time and era that Seattle found itself a major part of, The Future Remembered covers it all.

For these reasons — and more — this history of the Century 21 Exposition is indispensable. It is available from a number of sources, one of them being the publisher HistoryLink , whose full catalog is worth taking a look at as well.

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