Friday, October 21, 2011
Tropical Space Age Architecture- Part 2
“On October 4, 1957, a finger reached out and pushed a button in the Soviet Union, launching Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, into orbit. Afraid of losing face during the Cold War, a stunned United States responded in several ways, one of the most unusual of which was the building of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.”
“The original theme of the fair was ‘Festival of the West’, celebrating the past. But with Sputnik circling overhead, the focus now became the future and the space race was on. The fair took on a decidedly science and space focus, as reflected in its formal name, the Century 21 Exposition. The fair is best known, though, as the less elegant sounding 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.”
As a result, the theme of the architecture of the fair had some of the best examples of space-age googie design ever built in the United States.
This simple pen sketch is a masterpiece of Tropical Space Age design for the fair’s Islands of Hawaii Pavilion with the Space Needle in the background.
Construction begins on the Islands of Hawaii Pavilion
The Space Needle and palm trees, what a beautiful clash of primitive and modern cultures.
Construction is complete and the Fair opens on April 21, 1962. This is an easy to find postcard of the Hawaii pavilion that was sold at the fair. Upon closer inspection, you can see the tiki torches are burning and there are three large fern wood tiki statues (two on the left in the sandy landscaped area and one near the food service window).
This is a rarer shot of the building showing the googie designed signage up top.
If you wanted to do some shopping at the fair, all you had to do was head over to the Boulevard of the World and you could find items from around the globe.
Note the two red painted tikis standing guard at the entrance into one of the stores.
At the end of the Boulevard of the World was the Philippines Pavilion with its giant tiki face and mouth doorway.
Here you could pick up a tiki or a moai carving. Note the world’s largest tiki fork and spoon set hanging on the outside wall. Those are awesome! How many of you tiki collectors out there have the smaller version of the fork and spoon set, I bet you all do. I’ve got a set hanging in my tiki bar.
If you still need to finish your shopping, head back over to the Hawaii pavilion and pick up a World’s Fair aloha shirt. What a great aloha fabric design. I like the comparison of the Space Needle to the Aloha Tower and the Hawaiian pavilion with Diamond Head in the background.
After all of that shopping, how about heading over to the Gayway for a Space Needle ice cream cone.
I love those Space Needle cones with a wafer platform on top!
If you want to step back in time to see what it was like to visit the fair in 1962, check out this video produced by the Bell Telephone company called ‘Century 21 Calling’. It starts on the Alweg monorail then travels around the fair. The sound track really sets the mood and takes you back. The first 4:30 minutes and the last 1:30 are great, the middle of the video is a sales pitch for Bell telephones (it’s fun to see what passed for new technology back then).
When the City built the 1962 World’s Fair, a monorail was included. One station was located at the fair, near the Space Needle. The other station was located in downtown Seattle. It was a short 1.2 mile ride down 5th Avenue to the Westlake station at the other end.
The intent after the fair closed on October 21, 1962, was to expand the monorail system to serve other portions of Seattle. Sadly, that never happened. However, the monorail is still in existence and running today. In fact, I was just in Seattle a few weeks ago and took a ride on the monorail and the Space Needle while I was in town.
Now what’s interesting to tikiphiles when it comes to the monorail, is the fact that it travels along 5th Avenue and the end station is only a block away from the current Westin Hotel. Back in the day, the Westin used to be the Hotel Benjamin Franklin. Tikiphiles may recognize that name, because the Benjamin Franklin was home to Seattle’s Trader Vic’s restaurant. Originally, Trader Vic’s opened as The Outrigger in 1948. The name was later changed to Trader Vic’s.
The World’s Fair monorail and Trader Vic’s at the Hotel Benjamin Franklin. The Space Needle is visible in the background between the monorail and the Trader Vic's sign.
The Seattle Trader Vic’s had the very unique distinction of being the only Vic’s that was accessible via monorail! It was only a one block walk from the Westlake Station.
Seattle Trader Vic’s at the Hotel Benjamin Franklin.
This entrance faced 5th Avenue. If the photographer would have rotated to face down the street, the monorail would have been visible overhead along the center of 5th Avenue. That would have been a cool photo (I’ve been looking for a long time and have never found a photo like that).
Interior of the Seattle Trader Vic’s
The Hotel Benjamin Franklin was converted to the current Westin in 1967 and Trader Vic’s continued to operate there until it closed in 1991.
Imagine what a great day it would have been to spend at the 1962 World’s Fair, then hop on the monorail over to Trader Vic’s in the early evening for an exotic cocktail and a pupu platter.
Your evening didn’t have the end there. After cocktails at Trader Vic’s you could have headed over to Pier 51 a few blocks away to have an elegant dinner at the Polynesia Restaurant.
The Polynesia Restaurant, while not Tropical Space Age design on the exterior, was very different from Trader Vic’s and most other tiki restaurants. The interior was sleek and modern. Check out that awesome sculpture on the right. It is a tube that spirals up towards the ceiling. Little holes are poked in the tube and ignited so that flames extend around the piece.
The only tiki visible in this picture is the small 3’ stature in front of the hostess stand. Does it look familiar? Go back up in this post to the color photo of the Philippine pavilion and check out the two tikis standing guard at the top of the steps. They are the same. Looks like the folks at the Polynesia bought their tiki at the fair and brought him home to their restaurant.
1962 would have been a great year to be in downtown Seattle. The Century 21 Exposition, Trader Vic’s and the Polynesia were all within a mile or two of each other and each represented a different type of Polynesian Pop design, including Tropical Space Age, Tiki and Tiki Modern respectively.
One last resource if you’re looking for some more great visuals from the fair. Put the Elvis movie “It Happened at the World’s Fair” into your Netflix queue. It was filmed on location at the fair and is an hour and half of Elvis and World’s Fair goodness. It’s a fun movie.
Credit: Some of the text and photos are from ‘Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair’ by Bill Cotter.