Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (1909) -- A Tour of Selected Buildings

  • By Alan Stein and Paula Becker with Jennifer Ott
  • Posted 3/26/2024
  • Essay 22956
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The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition took place from June 1 and October 16, 1909, on what's now the University of Washington campus, drawing more than 3 million visitors from around the state, the nation, and the world. They came to view hundreds of educational exhibits, stroll the lushly manicured grounds, and find entertainment on the Pay Streak midway, while Seattle promoted itself as a gateway to the resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia. The Washington State Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Commission, appointed by Governor Albert E. Mead (1861-1909), facilitated the participation of Washington's towns and counties. Seven commissioners representing each section of the state operated under an enabling act that directed all state bureaus, departments, and institutions to cooperate with the commission. Many Washington communities formed committees of their own to organize their participation. They produced displays of agricultural products, gathered examples of their children's educational work, and assembled historical artifacts that told their town's story. These towns, cities, and counties were honored with designated Special Days during the exposition, and hundreds or even thousands of community members often traveled to the fair by chartered train or boat to celebrate, enjoy the fair, and promote the benefits of their own part of Washington. This tour of selected exhibit buildings constructed for the A-Y-P includes most of those funded by the federal government, four Washington counties, along with the Washington Building (an important gathering place for large receptions) and the New York Building (which hosted most of the fair's important banquets).

Alaska Building

Architect: Howard Galloway
Funded By: United States government
On Site Now: Area north of Cunningham Hall

The Alaska Building, the Northern Empire's first building in any exposition, was a commanding structure that covered 36,000 square feet of land. Its exhibits showcased the resources the territory had to offer, not the least of which was gold. One of the more eye-catching displays featured more than $1 million in gold nuggets, dust, and ingots inside a heavily fortified case. At the end of each day, the cage was lowered through the floor to an underground vault accessible only by tunnel. Much of Alaska's wildlife was on display, either taxidermied or in the form of fur pelts. Hungry visitors enjoyed the fish-canning exhibit, where a free dainty lunch made from a different salmon recipe was handed out every day. Other exhibits focused on timber, whaling, mining, and burgeoning petroleum industries. Steamship and railroad companies were well-represented, and many of these organizations urged people to travel north, perhaps to buy land or set up a business. Another exhibit highlight was a large collection of artwork, most notably by Indigenous women. The Alaska Building was demolished after the fair.

United States Government Building

Architect: Howard & Galloway, Supervising Architects/John Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the Treasury
Funded By: United States government
On Site Now: Central Plaza (Red Square)

The enormous Government Building was the crowning structure at the A-Y-P, a fount of knowledge, wisdom, and patriotism that gave the fair substantial ballast. The Departments of State, Treasury, War, Justice, Post Office, Navy, Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce and Labor all had display space in the Government Building, as did the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum. A mint stamped commemorative medals, which were then sold by private concessionaires. A guard force protected the exhibits around the clock, carrying sidearms at night. A fisheries exhibit occupied a separate building linked to the main Government Building by an enclosed passage.

Among the hundreds of thousands of items displayed in the Government Building were a desk on which a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence was written, George Washington's eyeglasses, a knife that had cut over $5 billion worth of paper currency over its time in use, melting furnaces and machinery for coining money, a printing press in operation, model ships, marine hospital equipment, a model operating room with full-sized wax figures, an army wagon used in Sherman's march to the sea, portraits and letters signed by presidents and other statesmen, a functioning model post office, a lithographic printing press on which three-color maps of Seattle were printed, a rural schools exhibit, two large panoramas representing Yellowstone Falls and Crater Lake, a large glass weather map, 650 specimens of commercial apple varieties, working plans for Pacific Coast model farms, a refrigerator case stocked with slaughtered animals demonstrating the importance of rigid inspection during cattle slaughter, samples of tissue affected with tuberculosis, giant models of crop-damaging insects, many lighthouse lenses and an operational lighthouse, model locomotives, and a large exhibit documenting the history of photography. The Government Building was demolished after the fair.

Hawaii Building

Architect: Howard & Galloway
Funded By: United States government
On Site Now: Suzzallo Library

The Hawaii Building was a large structure located prominently near the Government Building. Exhibits were designed to acquaint the world with the "new" Hawaii, with an abundance of artifacts from Indigenous cultures. The exhibits stressed the importance of Hawaii's role as a U.S. territory, not a possession. This was the first time the Territory of Hawaii had ever taken a prominent part in any exposition. A great cement water tank 60 feet in length ran through the center of the building and provided visitors with an overview of the islands in miniature. The location and strategic importance of Pearl Harbor, where work had just begun on what was termed an "impregnable naval base," was displayed prominently. Elsewhere on the map, the Kilauea volcano emitted a plume of smoke at regular intervals. Visitors enjoyed a daily series of motion pictures that showed various aspects of island life, along with educational films from around the nation. After each viewing, many people enjoyed slices of tasty pineapple, served up at polished koa wood tables. The Hawaii Building was demolished after the fair.

Manufactures Building

Architect: Somervell and Cote, Howard & Galloway supervising
Funded By: A-Y-P Exposition Company
On Site Now: Area east of Drumheller Fountain in front of Guggenheim Hall

The Manufactures Building was of French Renaissance design and curved around the east side of Geyser Basin. It covered 60,000 square feet of ground and contained numerous displays of manufactured items – meaning they were made by machine on a large scale. Many educational exhibits showed how products were made. Weaving machines manufactured silk embroideries. Knives and scissors were manufactured, as were burnt leather goods, furniture, and carpets. A model printing plant was used to print sheet music. The building also housed an extensive arts and crafts exhibit. After the fair, the building was used on campus until 1918, when it was torn down.

Agriculture Building

Architect: Graham & Meyers, Howard & Galloway supervising
Funded By: A-Y-P Exposition Company
On Site Now: Bagley Hall and southern portion of Johnson Hall

The Agriculture Building was of French Renaissance design and curved around the west side of Geyser Basin. It covered 60,000 square feet of ground, and in addition to showcasing innovations in agriculture, it was the main exhibit space for most of the Washington counties that didn't have their own buildings. The main gallery was devoted to educational exhibits on foods and beverage processing, from fruit canning to sanitary beer bottling. Railroad exhibits showed how Washington produce was sent around the nation. Many counties throughout the state proudly showed off the agricultural products that defined their communities. Skagit County had its dairy industry, Walla Walla its onions, Mason County its grapes, and so on. County booths also highlighted other industries, such as fishing, timber, or mining, depending on location. The Agriculture Building was demolished after the fair.

Forestry Building

Architect: Saunders and Lawton
Funded By: The State of Washington
On Site Now: Husky Union Building

Fir logs with bark left intact provided the Forestry Building with dramatic and functional decoration. Felled in Hazel (near Arlington) in Snohomish County in October 1908, these logs formed 124 columns that were each 4 1/2 feet in diameter and 37 feet high. Each massive column weighed 50,000 pounds and contained sufficient board feet to build a five-room cottage. In total, some 2.5 million feet of lumber was utilized to create the Forestry Building.

Spiral staircases at each end of the building reached up to a balcony exhibit space. A display showed visitors timber at every stage of the manufacturing process, from felled tree to finished flooring, paneling, millwork, and decorative elements – potent proof of Washington's timber resources. Other displays included a giant set of wooden dice, a display of cedar shingles, exhibits documenting Washington's history, and a tuberculosis-prevention exhibit. The south half of the main floor contained a fish hatchery, preserved fish in specimen jars, live fish in aquariums, and live seals. A mountain with streams flowing past growing sod, ferns, and taxidermied animals sat at the southern end of the hall. Behind the Forestry Building was the so-called Big Stick: a 156-foot piece of milled timber that could be viewed from below. A shorter 87-foot pole nearby could be straddled, and made a popular subject for camera-wielding fairgoers. After the fair it served as the university's forestry building. Several years after the fair the collections of the Burke Museum moved to the Forestry Building, but the discovery of dry rot in 1923 forced its closure and, in 1930, demolition.

Washington State Building

Architect: Bebb and Mendel
Funded By: The State of Washington
On Site Now: Open area Southeast of Allen Library and north of Sieg Hall

The Washington State Building, the official headquarters of the exposition, boasted a large open floor space ideal for large receptions and banquets. Beginning in July the general public was invited to weekly dances in this space, which was also used regularly by many Special Day groups for dances and receptions. All important visitors to the fair, including President Taft, were entertained in this building. The building's interior was finished in rich, fine style, demonstrating how beautiful Washington's timber could look in its most processed form. The Washington State A-Y-P commissioners had executive offices on the first floor, and the second floor housed men's and women's drawing rooms and restrooms and a smaller reception room that fairgoers also could use as an inside place to bring their lunches. After the fair it was remodeled and used as the University of Washington Library, and after 1927 as the Washington State Museum. Part of the building was demolished in 1961, the rest on November 2, 1988.

Auditorium Building

Architect: Howard and Galloway
Funded By: The State of Washington
On Site Now: George Washington statue plaza northwest of the current Meany Hall

Constructed from wood with concrete and brick exterior walls, the 2,500-capacity Auditorium Building was an important venue for many concerts, speeches, and other formal gatherings during the A-Y-P. The main floor contained a stage/platform and seating. Wide stairways led from each side of the lobby to the balcony. Since the Auditorium was located near the A-Y-P Exposition's main entrance that emptied onto 15th Avenue NE, patrons exiting the Auditorium had easy access to streetcars. After the fair the Auditorium was re-christened Meany Hall in honor of beloved University of Washington professor Edmond Meany. It was remodeled in 1925 and served the University community until structural damage from the 1965 earthquake forced its demolition.

Washington Women’s Building

Architect: Saunders & Lawton
Funded By: State of Washington
On Site Now: Molecular Engineering Building; the original building survives in a new location.

The Washington Women's Building, also called the Women's State Building or simply the Women's Building, was created at the behest of Spokane resident Lena Erwin Allen representing the 90 clubs that comprised the Washington State Federation of Women's Clubs. Members of these clubs successfully lobbied state legislators for funding, and University of Washington alumni and female students raised money for furnishings. During construction in November 1908 Alaska-Yukon Magazine called the Women's Building "practically permanent."

The Women's Building was used during the A-Y-P Exposition for teas and receptions, as a display space for women's creative work and achievements, and to help and serve female fairgoers. The second floor featured a free nursery and kindergarten staffed by two trained nurses and stocked with toys. More than 2,000 children were cared for in this nursery, presumably freeing their mothers to better enjoy the fair. A small retiring room where mothers could rest and nurse their babies was much appreciated and in nearly constant use. After the fair the Women's Building was used briefly for its intended post-fair purpose as a center for women's activities on campus, but in 1916 the structure was appropriated to house an experimental mining station. In 1927 it became the Chemistry Annex and then in 1937 the home of Army ROTC. In 1969 it became the Atmospheric Sciences Annex, and it was not until 1983 that it was renamed Imogen Cunningham Hall and re-designated to serve women. As of 2008 the humble Women's Building, and its much grander nearby neighbor the Fine Arts Building (now the Architecture Building) are the sole surviving public buildings erected for the A-Y-P Exposition. On September 16, 2009, Cunningham Hall was relocated in order to make way for the construction of a new 89,000-square-foot molecular engineering building. Cunningham Hall now sits facing George Washington Lane, just west of Parrington Hall.

Fine Arts Palace

Architect: Howard and Galloway
Funded By: The State of Washington
On Site Now: Building survives as the UW Architecture Hall

The Fine Arts Palace, just north of the main gate of the exposition, exhibited paintings, photographs, and sculptures gathered from around the country by Director of Fine Arts G. L. Berg, the Secretary of the Washington State Art Association. John Galen Howard of the architecture firm Howard and Galloway designed the building in the Ionic style, featuring four columns at the front. It housed three floors of rooms and an auditorium. Two of the eight main galleries held examples of great European art, including works by El Greco, Anthony van Dyk, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-Francois Millet, English portraitists, and French Impressionists. The remaining six galleries held works by American painters, including John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Fiske Warren and a number of landscapes. Two small rooms held an exhibit of Edwards S. Curtis's photography, and the atrium had a small display of sculptures. The artist Ernest C. Peixotto noted in Scribner's Magazine that the exhibition had a "decidedly uneven merit,” and while he attributed the issue to Seattle’s remoteness, he decried the random display of the pieces as a fault of all exhibitions at the time. Museums and galleries were just beginning to hang artwork according to a scheme intended to educate the audience.

The Board of Regents determined that this building would be the University's Chemistry Building after the fair, and it was designed accordingly. It served that purpose until 1937 when it was remodeled for the Physiology and Architecture departments, and has been used only for Architecture since 1946. A major renovation of the building in 1987 retrofitted the entire interior of the building, essentially building a concrete structure within the frame of the old building for seismic safety. The Department of Construction Management of the College of Architecture and design studios for the Department of Architecture are now located in the building, along with a coffee shop that has the distinction of being the campus' s first non-Husky Union Building coffee shop, opened in the early 1960s.

Mines Building

Architect: Shack & Huntington, Howard & Galloway supervising
Funded By: A-Y-P Exposition Company
On Site Now: Benson Hall

The Mines Building was planned along the Court of Honor, but what was originally supposed to be the Mines Building became the Oriental Palace. Instead, the Mines Building was located behind the Agriculture Building, and showcased various aspects of the mining industry in the Pacific Northwest. Displays included large blocks of granite, sandstone, onyx, marble, and other minerals. One exhibit showed examples of clay from every county in Washington. Metal mining was represented by more than 400 separate exhibits from 39 mining camps. Numerous types of ore, crystals, and coal were on view. Once a day, the Government Mines Rescue Service gave a demonstration on how injured miners were saved following gas leaks, rock falls, or explosions. The Mines Building was demolished after the fair.

King County Building

Architect: Unknown
Funded By: King County
On Site Now: Aerospace Research Building

The King County Building was a two-story structure, built in simple Renaissance style. Its outdoor garden produced crates of strawberries that were distributed to visitors. Exhibit space inside was free to King County producers. The building also housed the offices of the Seattle Press Club, where much of the newspaper work on the grounds took place. The first floor contained a massive cyclorama that detailed the resources and development of King County. A smaller exhibit illustrated Seattle's regrade work, using an illusion by which a large hill disappeared from view, displaced by an image of skyscrapers and graded streets. The second floor showcased more than 150 county manufacturers, featuring products that ranged from furniture and appliances to artificial limbs and soap. The King County Building was demolished after the fair.

Chehalis County Building

Architect: Unknown
Funded By: Chehalis County (later renamed Grays Harbor County)
On Site Now: Skagit Lane between Miller Hall and the Communications Building

The Chehalis County Building featured an elaborate frieze above its main entrance which depicted the county's main industries: lumber, livestock, dairy, and farming. The interior was furnished entirely in the county’s native woods, highly polished to accent the grains. Lumber mills and farm products dominated the exhibits, but the region's burgeoning fishing industry was also on display. Various women's clubs displayed their handiwork, and there was a showcase of Indigenous artifacts. The Chehalis County Building was demolished after the fair.

Spokane County Building

Architects: Herman Preusse and Julius Zittel
Funded By: Spokane County
On Site Now: Miller Hall

The Spokane Building was built in the style of Spanish Mission architecture, topped by four central towers with four smaller towers at each corner of the structure. The main entrance featured a cozy veranda furnished with rockers, wicker chairs, and benches. Inside, the arched ceiling was painted flat black and decorated with a series of friezes made entirely out of seeds, grain, and grasses. Each image was modeled after actual photographs of scenes from Spokane County. Large portraits of Theodore Roosevelt and President Taft, state seal, and an image of George Washington hung on the walls. Half of the building was a large resting lounge, filled with comfortable furniture and Spokane newspapers and promotional literature. The Spokane Building was demolished after the fair.

Yakima County Building

Architect: Henry F. O. Pohl
Funded By: Yakima County
On Site Now: Area north of Allen Library

The Yakima County Building was a two-story rectangular structure, ornamented with cases and boxes filled with plants furnished by the women's clubs and schoolchildren of North Yakima. An irrigation system of flumes and laterals watered the garden, similar to farm land in Yakima County. Inside, the smell of fruit was overwhelming. Large displays of cherries, apricots, peaches, apples, and all kinds of berries filled the first floor. Other farm products such as potatoes, hay, and alfalfa were also on view. Upstairs, visitors could examine ore from mines and products like milled flour, canned fruit, and cruets of cider vinegar. A large relief map of the county was on display, as was a collection of baskets, blankets, and clothing made by members of the Yakama Nation. Weary walkers enjoyed the men's smoking room, filled with easy chairs and settees, and the women's lounge, which included writing desks. The Yakima County Building was demolished after the fair.

New York Building

Architect: Clarence Luce
Funded By: New York State
On Site Now: N-22 parking area directly across Stevens Way from Hall Health

The New York State Building was modeled after the Auburn, New York, home of former Governor William H. Seward. As Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, Seward negotiated the treaty with Russia that authorized the United States purchase of Alaska. The fairgrounds building was designed for social gatherings, and after the Washington State Building was disallowed for banquet use, New York ended up hosting most of the A-Y-P Exposition's important luncheons and dinners. The building featured a women's reception room and men's reception room off of the main hallway. Beyond that was a large banquet room that could easily seat more than 100 people. Throughout the building were photographs and paintings depicting scenes in the Empire State. A private sitting room and a full bedroom upstairs meant that the New York Building could house dignitaries overnight if need be. After the fair, the building was turned into the University of Washington President's Residence. During a remodel in 1920, all the porches and verandas surrounding the structure were torn down. After the president moved into a new residence in 1927, the structure became the Music Building. It was demolished in 1950.

South Pay Streak

Architect: Not applicable
Funded By: Individual concessionaires paid for their own exhibits
On Site Now: South Campus Center

The Pay Streak was the A-Y-P Exposition's midway area. It stretched along the Exposition's western border from what’s now NE 40th Street down to the esplanade and gondola landing at Lake Union. The Pay Streak drew fairgoers of all ages. Carnival rides – a large Ferris Wheel, a carousel, the Mountain Slide, Ferry Gorge Tickler, Human Laundry, Vacuum Tube Railway, Mountain Swing, and many others – promised thrills. Re-creations of historical events and distant places like the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack, the Streets of Cairo, On the Yukon, and the Gold Camps of Alaska simulated experiences most Pay Streak visitors could only imagine. Attractions like the Baby Incubator Exhibit gave fairgoers a (more or less) educational experience. Food concessions let visitors gobble peanuts, hot corn, lemonade, roast beef sandwiches, and many other carnival delicacies, building their stamina for further fun. Souvenir stands sold maps, pennants, and a seemingly infinite number of household items emblazoned with the A-Y-P logo, allowing anyone willing to part with a few coins the chance to take a memento of the day home in their pocket.

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