Marilyn Gandy Scherrer discusses Laurene and Joe Gandy's Seattle World's Fair memories

  • By Marilyn Gandy Scherrer
  • Posted 12/27/2011
  • Essay 9994

Laurene Tatlow Gandy (1908-1993) was widely acknowledged as the First Lady of the Century 21 Exposition -- 1962 Seattle World's Fair, and was one of that fair's most important assets. With her husband, Seattle World's Fair president Joseph E. Gandy (1904-1971), she graciously welcomed and entertained visiting dignitaries and their families throughout the fair's six-month run. In the decades following the fair, Laurene Gandy continued to support and nurture the Seattle World's Fair's most important legacy, Seattle Center. In 1977, Laurene Gandy helped found Seattle Center Foundation, the nonprofit organization that raises funds by encouraging foundation, governmental, and private contributions to the Center. This People's History is based on a presentation that Joe and Laurene Gandy's daughter, Marilyn Gandy Scherrer, prepared for Seattle's Sunset Club, an organization of which Laurene Gandy was a longtime member and past president. As she explains, Marilyn Gandy Scherrer's presentation is based on a compilation of speeches that Laurene Gandy delivered to community groups in the years following the fair, and a speech that Joseph Gandy delivered to the Seattle Rotary weeks after the fair closed.

A Wealth of Information

Fortunately I found all of my mother's 17 Seattle World's Fair speeches, three of which were given at the Sunset Club. I also located my father's speech that he gave to Rotary in November 1962 just after the close of Century 21. So I have a wealth of information which was such fun to read!

Mother retired from being president of the Sunset Club two days after the fair began on April 21, 1962. She often said it was Christmas every single day of the fair and that she was married to the fair for six months. And indeed she was. During those six months, they entertained 868 people for dinner here at the Club. She said that 350 people "dipped their fingers in our finger bowls at our home," and that they gave at least one formal state dinner per week for anywhere between 12 and 40 people. Caterers were on notice all the time.

Scores of Visitors

People came from the airport, highways, railroads, and bus stations. A constant stream of tourists from every state in the union poured into Seattle. Our city had never seen such a parade of dignitaries, from President Kennedy (who toured the fairgrounds a year before the fair opened), to leaders of foreign countries, from astronauts of both the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., and to the greatest names in the world of the arts and entertainment.

The records show that there were 200 state visits in the six months of the fair. There were over 797 distinguished visitors from 89 countries including two foreign royal visitors, one head of state, 30 ambassadors, six US cabinet officials, two cosmonauts and one astronaut, 40 governors for their special day at the Flag Pavilion, and 182 state department people. Over 3000 visitors came from abroad. In all, there were close to 10 million visitors. Mother often stated that some people are convinced that all 10 million who visited stayed with them!

Famous Faces

The first foreign visitors were the Shah and Queen of Iran, arriving the second day of the opening. At dinner Mother mentioned that Minoru Yamasaki had designed the Science Center. The Queen was so excited as they had just commissioned Yamasaki to design Tehran University. Of course, their first stop was the Science Pavilion. For all you fashion lovers, the Queen was one of the best dressed women in the world with exquisite jewels.

The most delightful visitor was Prince Philip. He was the only person to fly his own private jet to Century 21. He had such a wonderful sense of humor. For example, while in the GM pavilion, he commented on the ultra modern model GM car. (You may remember that my father was one of three owners of the Smith Gandy Ford Agency.) He asked my father if the GM car ran. My father said, "No." Prince Phillip quipped: "Spoken like a true Ford man."

Russian Astronaut Titov and his wife came. Mother said it was the worst day of the fair for her. His wife never spoke to her or anyone else. Also as Mother was wearing her best wool suit that day, a bystander said, "Oh look at that lady, [meaning Mother], she must be Russian." When they went into the Science Pavilion, Mother noticed a guide that spoke Russian, so she invited him to dinner at our home that night so they could communicate with Mrs. Titov. That caused a huge crisis that took 17 secret service men to look into his background that afternoon. They then allowed him to attend dinner!

Walt Disney, Richard Nixon, Elvis, and the three Ford Brothers all came.

Space and the Space Needle

Mother's most hectic day was when John Glenn, Lyndon Johnson, and Governor Nelson Rockefeller came the same day, followed that night by the Second National Peaceful Use of Space conference. Mother was seated next to Werner Von Braun, who told her that Hitler had ordered him to work for the Nazi war machine in a civilian position. He refused and was jailed. He commented that the Nazis were power-crazed leaders, and that evil slowly crept in. Once he was able, he escaped to the United States and worked for us.

Mother always told this fun story: Athelstan Spilhaus, one of our nation's most renowned scientists, was the commissioner of the United States Science Pavilion. He rented a house boat only to find that it began to sink if he asked 12 people for dinner.

At our home, we actually got death threats over the color to the top of the Space Needle: orange. We also got other odd calls. For example, as a state dinner at our home was ending, someone phoned, saying "I am having a large party in my home at the top of Queen Anne Hill, would you please change the colors of the International Fountain for just one night … no red or blue, just green and yellow please."

Mother commented that Ambassador Nehru and Mrs. Nehru, who by the way was Hungarian, were fascinated that Nehru and Gandy were meeting on the same continent.

Performing Artists

In the arts here are just a few dignitaries I remember: Isaac Stern, Eugene Ormandy, Bob Hope, the Old Vic Theater, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Theater of Greece, the Mexican Folklorico dancers, the Canadian Military Tattoo, Benny Goodman, the Lippizan horses, Danny Kaye, Salvador Dali's jewelry, Aida opening the Opera House, poetry readings by Carl Sandburg and Theodore Roethke, and Elvis Presley, who made the movie It Happened at the World's Fair on the fair grounds.

Mother had a cute story about Elvis's visit. Elvis was in a roped off area with my father. However, Mother was in the crowd. She politely asked the policeman if she could join my father and slip under the rope. As she ducked under the rope, she heard a lady remark, "Oh that must be Elvis's mother."

History of the Fair

The idea for the fair began with City Councilman Al Rochester in 1955. Because he had worked at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909, he came up with the idea of celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the A-Y-P. I found a quote about the A-Y-P that has exemplified our city since its inception. "The A-Y-P was conceived in the midst of the national financial panic of 1909 by an upstart community of 200,000 that didn't know it was too small and too remote to host a great exposition. And because Seattle leaders did not know it could not be done, they created an exposition that drew 3,740,551 people and built four permanent buildings for the University of Washington." When I think they could only come via train, boat, or possibly horse, I am utterly amazed at the number of people. Remember there were no planes and few cars.

In 1955, 20 Seattle leaders began meeting for a 7 a.m. breakfast two to five times a week at the Olympic Hotel to brainstorm this idea. It quickly morphed into giving Seattle the heritage of a civic center. This group of civic leaders met for the next seven years, from 1955-1962.

A Powerhouse

My father Joseph E. Gandy was one of the 20. By 1959, my father said that the fair was as welcome as a stray cat shoved door-to-door. In September 1959, Bill Street, President of Frederick and Nelson, twisted my father's arm to become president of the fair. He took the position for several months without pay but ended up being president for two and one-half years. All these men saw it only as an opportunity to have a civic center. My father often said it would be unethical to spend all this money and not have permanent buildings left for public use.

I found a March 17, 1961, The Seattle Times article by Boyd Buchard that had several apropos comments. "Gandy was a powerhouse comparable to the Pacific Northwest's greatest hydroelectric plants. Like them, he runs steadily and quietly, pouring fourth vast energy, truly a human dynamo. Gandy is past president of enough civic organizations to fill this entire newspaper column. He's a salesman's salesman and an executive's executive rolled into one." Indeed my father was all of that.

Emergency Planning

He quickly found out that there was only enough money left to pay one week's salary for the employees. So he immediately did five things. Without Joe's doing these things, there would have been neither a Seattle World's Fair nor Seattle Center which we all enjoy today.

1. He got local businesses and civic leaders to donate $100,000. They never expected to get their money back.

2. He drew up the most unusual labor document ever signed by unions. They contracted not to strike during construction and for the entire six months of the fair. He had known that the New York World's Fair in 1939 was a greatly hampered by the unions striking.

3. Once he had this union contract, he immediately flew to Paris to try and get the Bureau of International Exposition's approval. Unknown Seattle was competing with New York, San Francisco, and Moscow. He was there persuading the BIE for three weeks. Finally it was between Moscow and Seattle. There can only be one World's Fair on a continent every 10 years. Seattle was selected only because of the incredible union contract that Joe had made. He also insisted it was to be a Type B Fair, meaning the buildings would remain standing, thus giving us a civic center. Without the BIE approval, our world's fair would not have taken place. It would only have been a local exposition. Foreign countries would not have participated, and we would not have the permanent legacy that the leaders so wanted.

4. Jackie Souder's Band signed a major music contract … for six months the wonderful band marched daily.

5. He went down to visit Walt Disney to see what made Disneyland such a success and was told: sell no gum or cotton candy and double your cleanup crew. Disney also said it took him one year to iron out all the bugs. He said our fair would fail because Joe could not possibly work out all the problems in six months and make it run smoothly. Joe took all his suggestions. And it did run smoothly all six months.

Bringing in the World

Between 1959 and 1962, he visited 64 nations, two thirds of which went on to participate in the fair. I recall him telling me that in one South American country, he endured four government coups in one week and ended up signing the contract under the president's desk as machine guns were shooting.

Another episode shows Joe's dogged determination. Just two months before the fair opened, the European Economic Community, then six nations, withdrew. Their building had already been constructed! Within two hours of that news, Joe was on the plane to Paris. It took several days, but he talked them into coming as originally planned. The EEC was utterly shocked he made the trip. They had expected him to throw their letter into the waste paper basket and only receive an angry letter from him that the BIE would just file.

Our whole state entered into action with a Paint Up and Cleanup program. Cities added flower boxes and trees. Leavenworth actually began their Autumn Leaf Festival due to the fair. Seattle added trees on Third, Fourth, and Fifth Avenues. In all 20,000 trees and shrubs were planted.

The Great World's Fair

Many said the fair could not open in time, and indeed just days before it opened, it surely appeared that way. But by God's grace, it was ready on time. On April 21, 1962, President John F. Kennedy in Florida opened the fair with "Let the fair begin," as he pressed the same Klondike golden key with which President William Taft had opened the A-Y-P in 1909. Danny Kaye read the fair's credo. That opening night Milton Katims of our Seattle Orchestra opened with Igor Stravinsky personally conducting Stravinsky's Firebird with Van Cliburn playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #3 in D Minor.

The fair cleared $1 million, which was given to the state once the Fair Corporation was closed. The Seattle World's Fair is one of the few fairs to actually make money! For every dollar spent on the fair, $3 came back into the city. All loans were paid back within three months of its opening. Many had written the money off as bad loans in 1961 and felt their tax accountants would be upset as they would have to amend their tax returns! Show Street made $3.5 million, the Sky Ride $1 million, the Gayway $4 million, the Monorail $5.5 million, and the Fine Arts Exhibit made $1.5 million. The Food circus actually sold $16 million worth of food, selling more food than anywhere in the U.S. Likely you remember the Fisher scones and the Belgian Waffles. Two thousand dollars was thrown into the pools at the Science Pavilion per month! During the six months, the fair switchboards got about 19,000 calls per day!

During the six months, the safety record was phenomenal. Actuarially it is expected that there will be one death per million visitors. There were none, but one casualty was my father, who broke his foot in August. I chuckle at this story. While in the hospital, he learned that some people wanted to replace him as president of the fair. He put on his overcoat over his hospital gown, hailed a cab, and arrived at that meeting much to people's shock. He said "OK, who do you want as president … him or me?" He remained president, got back into the cab, returned to the hospital, and went back into his hospital bed.

President John F. Kennedy was coming out to close the fair on October 21, 1962. You may remember that the Cuban Missile Crisis was at its peak, and the president was unable to close the fair.

After the Fair

The next day, the switchboards were jammed with people who could not believe it really closed. And the Mexican Minister of Tourism actually came a week late to the fair. They tried to talk him out of coming, but he insisted. Sadly they took him around the silent grounds.

As stated in the beginning, Joe felt it economically immoral to spend vast fortunes and have only memories left, so today we are left with the Opera House, the Repertory Theater, the Coliseum, the Food Circus, and many other permanent buildings.

He told a cute story. He had been gone from Smith Gandy, the Ford agency, for so long that one day, when he quickly popped in, a new salesman tried to sell him a car.

To promote the fair, he was on many national TV programs such as the Arthur Godfrey Show, the Today Show, and the Ed Sullivan show. He was asked "If you had it to do all over would you do it?" He said "The answer is NO, I would not, but I have a tiger by the tail and I've got to handle it." He also said "It is very hard work, don't ever get into it".

It seemed impossible to him that we as a community could ever think small again. Remember like the A-Y-P, Seattle in 1962 did not know it was too small and too remote to host a World's Fair. Because the Seattle leaders did not know it could not be done, they created the wonderful Seattle Center we have today. My father had a motto on his desk that reflected the people's skepticism of the Wright Brothers: "It will not fly, Orville." But fly we did.

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