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World’s Fair Master Plan

The roots of master planning at Seattle Center stretch back to as early as the 1911 Bogue plan, which considered this area between downtown and Queen Anne for a civic center to serve as Seattle’s cultural gathering place. The Civic Auditorium (now McCaw Hall), ice arena (now Opera Center) and Civic Field (predecessor of Memorial Stadium) were all built in 1927 based on that plan. 

The idea of a civic center persisted through the mid-1950s when the community leaders spearheaded an effort to pass a $7.5 million levy to help finance it. Voters approved the measure and soon after the State Legislature matched the amount. A Civic Center Master Plan ensued; and from there, the idea of tying the civic center to a World’s Fair followed. 

The master plan’s guiding architects, Paul Thiry and Lawrence Halprin, used the neighborhood street grid as their underlying organizational pattern, closing off the campus area to motor vehicles and articulating focal points on the 74-acre fair grounds with prominent structures, such as the Washington State Coliseum (now Climate Pledge Arena). Surrounding landscaped courtyards and open space provided relaxing, spacious counterpoints to the buildings. The existing auditorium and ice arena were renovated for new uses. Memorial Stadium was leased from Seattle Public Schools and Seattle Center Armory was leased from the Washington National Guard. The result of the planning efforts was to create an aesthetically adventurous cityscape intended to excite the visitor with futuristic visions of scientific progress.  After the fair, this area was used by the City of Seattle as a cultural center (as planned), renamed Seattle Center. Despite the plan to build a permanent civic center, more than half the structures built for the fair were torn down more or less immediately after it ended. But other structures, including the Arena and the Pacific Science Center, remain as lasting architectural legacies of the Century 21 Exposition, better known as the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Future master plans would lay the groundwork for development of new structures that would serve to enhance this cultural gathering place and preserve the vision of a civic center.

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World’s Fair image

About Seattle Center: 

Connect to the extraordinary at Seattle Center, an active civic, arts and family gathering place in the core of our region. More than 30 cultural, educational, sports and entertainment organizations that reside on the grounds, together with a broad range of public and community programs, create thousands of events on the 74-acre campus and attract over 12 million visitors each year. At Seattle Center, part of Uptown Arts & Cultural District, our purpose is to create exceptional events, experiences and environments that delight and inspire the human spirit to build stronger communities. Activities at the Center generate $1.864 billion in business activity and $631 million in labor income.