Space Needle first took a spin through Everett

  • Thu Nov 17th, 2011 9:35pm
  • News

By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist

Next time you’re in Seattle, look up — up near the top of the Space Needle. There’s a piece of Everett up there.

It’s a half-century old, but still an engineering marvel. It took a spin in Everett before ever finding its home at the 500-foot restaurant level of the Seattle icon.

On Nov. 7, 1961, a Space Needle architect, building contractor and restaurant official visited the Western Gear Corp. in Everett. They came for a test run of a doughnut-shaped turntable, along with gears and a motor, that soon would be rotating diners as they enjoyed a 360-degree view from the Space Needle restaurant. Seattle’s Century 21 Exhibition opened April 21, 1962, for a six-month run.

The giant turntable sits atop a track. Its drive system was engineered so the platform would revolve around a stationery center exactly once per hour. Kitchen areas of the restaurant — called the Eye of the Needle during the fair, and now SkyCity Restaurant — are in the nonspinning center.

Readers of The Everett Herald on Nov. 7, 1961, learned that the turntable, 94.5 feet in diameter, “performed with clock-like precision.” Along with the article was a photo by the late Jim Leo, a longtime Herald photographer, showing only the turntable.

Seattle’s Museum of History &Industry has another picture from that day. It shows not only the turntable, but a bit about early 1960s culture. Taken by an unknown photographer in the Western Gear parking lot, it shows a posed dining scene, complete with table, fancy tablecloth and chairs, assembled on the rotating ring.

Four men in suits sit at the table. They are being served coffee by a waitress in a very short skirt, apron and high heels.

“It’s hilarious — very much of the time of the World’s Fair,” said Carolyn Marr, the museum’s librarian. Those pictured are identified as: A.H. Fast, project architect with John Graham &Co.; L.A. Myhre, vice president and division manager of Western Gear Corp.; Jack Borg, president of Top of the Needle Inc.; Harlan S. Bixby, vice president of Howard S. Wright Construction Co.; and Kathy Dolan, labeled on the back of the photo as a “waitress-model.”

That wonderful photo is included in a new book, “The Future Remembered: The 1962 World’s Fair and Its Legacy,” by Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein. The authors also wrote “Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Washington’s First World’s Fair,” about the 1909 fair on the University of Washington campus.

Stein and Becker, writers for the HistoryLink regional history website, will sign copies of “The Future Remembered” from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Edmonds Bookshop.

“The fair was billed as America’s Space Age World’s Fair,” said Stein, who lives in Edmonds. “It wasn’t planned that way. It was supposed to be a throwback to the 1909 fair.”

It was the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviets in 1957, he said, that changed the fair’s focus. “That was a game-changer. We had to teach our kids science and put a man on the moon,” Stein said.

The optimism of the age was mixed with fear. “The Cold War was going on,” Stein said. “Are we even going to live to the year 2000, or will the bomb drop?”

Phil Bannan owns Scuttlebutt Brewing Co. and is a former Port of Everett commissioner. In 1888, Bannan’s grandfather started Pacific Gear and Tool Works in San Francisco. That business grew into Western Gear, which later moved to Seattle and then Everett.

Western Gear was on property that’s now Naval Station Everett. It was sold in the 1980s to make way for the Navy, Bannan said.

Although Western Gear built the turntable, Bannan said he wasn’t in Everett for the dining-table photo opportunity. “I graduated from Santa Clara University in June of 1961,” he said Thursday. After that, he traveled and joined the Army. Bannan also missed the Seattle World’s Fair.

Everett’s Howie Bargreen, who runs Bargreen Coffee Co., has many memories of Century 21. His late father, Howard S. Bargreen, was a state senator and one of 15 commissioners who planned the Seattle fair.

“I was there for the opening, and I worked at the fair,” said Bargreen, who was 17 in 1962. He worked in a warehouse under the fair’s Food Circus. Bargreen said he was even filmed for a scene in the Elvis Presley movie “It Happened at the World’s Fair.”

“I was the balloon man. At the end of the movie I was supposed to dance up the steps — but they cut me out,” Bargreen said.

Stein, the author, is too young to remember the Century 21 Exhibition. “I just turned 50,” he said.

Plenty of us do remember when today’s Seattle Center was shiny and new. Bannan bets some folks also recall working on that gee-whiz turntable, built in 24 steel sections and driven by three stages of gearing.

“Lots of people still around worked at Western Gear. We still get together,” Bannan said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Authors in Edmonds

Paula Becker and Alan J. Stein will sign copies of their book “The Future Remembered: The 1962 World’s Fair and Its Legacy” from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Edmonds Bookshop, 111 Fifth Ave. S. in Edmonds. Information: 425-775-2789.