By Julie Muhlsten
Some of her memories have faded, but the best ones are vivid. They shine brightly, rekindled by the hoopla over the Seattle World’s Fair 50th anniversary.
“It was all fun to me. I loved every minute of it,” Grace Bargreen Parsons said Thursday from her home in Palm Springs, Calif. “It was hard work at the time, but just great.”
That Parsons struggles to remember details is understandable. She is, at 103, a remarkable woman who still occasionally hits a golf ball.
In 1962, when the eyes of the world were on Seattle, her Everett family was involved top-to-bottom in the Century 21 spectacle.
The late Howard S. Bargreen, Parsons’ first husband, was a state senator. He was on the 15-member commission of business and political leaders that planned the Seattle World’s Fair. The Bargreen family founded what became the Bargreen Coffee Co. in 1898, and Crown Distributing Co., a beverage distributor, in the 1930s.
During the fair’s six-month run, Grace and Howard Bargreen moved from Everett to an apartment in Seattle. They operated an international marketplace concessions business at the fair, and their children had jobs there.
“I was 17,” said Howie Bargreen, now president of Everett’s Bargreen Coffee Co. “The day it opened, we had stayed up all night painting.” He recalled working in the stadium parking lot, at what’s now Seattle Center, putting finishing touches on concession stands.
At the fair, he worked in a storage area in the Food Circus basement. That’s where thousands of souvenirs needed to stock concession stands were stored. He made deliveries to the stands in a little car “like a golf cart.”
“It was morning until late at night,” he said.
The work had begun a few years earlier, when Bargreen said his parents traveled to Japan on a souvenir-buying trip. After the Seattle Fair, with their children raised, the Bargreens took their concession business on to the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65, and to HemisFair ‘68 in San Antonio, Texas.
For the Seattle fair, Parsons said the family rented two apartments. Howie sometimes stayed with his parents, and sometimes made the commute to Everett — years before I-5 was completed — on Highway 99.
Howie Bargreen said many friends from Everett worked at the fair that summer, including Fred Harvey, Don Corliss and Terry Ennis, who became a football coach at Cascade High School and Archbishop Murphy High School. Ennis died in 2007.
When he wasn’t working, Bargreen and his friends became tourists on familiar turf.
At a Ray Charles show, Bargreen said, he danced with some Girl Scouts from Arizona.
Bargreen missed his chance at being the answer to an obscure movie-trivia question. He was filmed for a scene in the Elvis Presley movie, “It Happened at the World’s Fair,” but his part was cut.
“I was in the last scene. I handed Elvis a bunch of balloons. He kissed the girl and let go of the balloons,” Bargreen said. “I was supposed to dance up the stairs, then hand the balloons to Elvis. All they showed were the balloons. They should have gotten a real actor.”
Presley, he said, had quite an entourage. “They had Southern accents. They didn’t look to me like choirboys,” he said.
Some of Bargreen’s friends were in the band that played every day at the fair. That was a good job, he said. “They played for the whole fair every morning. They had uniforms, like in high school, and got overtime,” Bargreen said. Some members, he said, became part of the Seattle Symphony.
Interviewed for her 100th birthday, Parsons remembered working at their concession’s office at the fair by day — the business had more than 100 employees, many from Everett — and in the evenings entertaining visiting dignitaries with her husband. “I’d keep a dinner dress on the back of the office door,” she said in 2009.
Howie Bargreen looks back at a time when Seattle was both an out-of-the-way and more innocent place.
“Many people came to the fair who had never been to Seattle,” Bargreen said. He met visitors who drove with their families from Texas and other parts of country to see the Space Needle and the Northwest.
In the early 1960s, he said, there was still a sense of polite society — even in a crowd.
“I don’t remember any crime. I don’t remember anybody taking a purse,” he said. “There was a kind of spillover, the ethics of the Second World War, one for all, all for one. It was nice.”
After it was over, Bargreen said the family heard from people who were happy they had jobs at the fair, and a chance to be part of history.
“Again, it was a different era. People who worked down there were all kind of appreciative,” he said. “I know I really appreciated the fact that I was there to be part of it.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.