Seattle: World’s Fair Remnants

The giant UFO. That’s what the girl sitting next to me on the boat called the Space Needle as we approached Seattle from the San Juan Islands. I can’t think of a more fitting description. It may be a pinnacle of the City skyline, but I’m not going to lie, I find it weird and bit ugly. And, yet it’s hard to imagine Seattle today without the Space Needle.

Constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Space Needle really isn’t that old, but it’s certainly become iconic. It’s reminiscent in some ways of another monument, built for another World’s Fair, almost 75 years early: The Eiffel Tower. For anyone born in the last hundred years, Paris wouldn’t be Paris without the Eiffel Tower. My impression is, like the Eiffel Tower, most people find the Space Needle a crowning jewel in architecture or a hideous eye sore.

Friends from Seattle told me to avoid the Space Needle. No need to pay all that money to ride an elevator to the top and get—as they all emphasized—an only “ok” view of the City. So I took their advice, I didn’t go up. But, no matter how hideous I might find it, I still wanted a close-up view and a good photograph. (I know how touristy of me).

The grounds of the Space Needle—Seattle Center—are the grounds of the 1962 World’s Fair. There’s something otherworldly and nostalgic about old World’s Fairs’. Something that me as a woman born in the 1990s knows I’ll never truly understand. Great monuments. Retro posters. Innovations. Whole cities within cities built for the temporary amusement of hundreds of thousands of people. And, you hope walking onto the grounds of an old fair location that the remnants of that grandeur will remain. But, it doesn’t. At least not here. My impression as I strolled around the park (twice for good measure) was that it felt like just your average run of the mill amusement park. It just didn’t feel special.

My second trip to Seattle Center was also for another World’s Fair reminder—the monorail. As someone who loves public transportation and trains, I had to ride the monorail at least once. It’s such a weird and bizarre piece of infrastructure. I knew it was going to be a bit cheesy, but it was perhaps the major disappointment of my trip. The whole process feels like you’re riding some sort of roller coaster. Along with hundreds of fellow tourists you’re corralled onto a platform, loaded onto the train, where you wait for several minutes, before taking the 10 minute ride back downtown and are dropped off into…wait for it…a mall. That’s right, one end of the monorail is a mall (Westlake Center Mall).

This isn’t to say the monorail isn’t a cool and unique piece of Seattle infrastructure. After all it meant enough to Seattleites for the City to purchase it in 1965 for $600,000, making it a permanent fixture in the City. It was also the foremost issue for Grant Cogswell, who proposed the expansion of the monorail throughout the City in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. But frankly, it’s just strange and from what I could tell—with a good bus system and an expanding lightrail—pretty useless.

My personal opinions of the Space Needle and monorail aside, the 1962 World’s Fair is partially credited with helping rejuvenate the Seattle economy—and these ugly, wonderful, bizarre remnants draw millions of tourists a year, helping to continue to pump money into the City.

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