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Essay: The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

The 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYP) held in Seattle, Washington, was the spectacular result of nearly 10 million dollars and four years of effort. The AYP was originally planned for 1907, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, but AYP organizers were beaten to the punch by Jamestown. Jamestown, on the other side of the United States, planned their own 1907 exposition to mark its 300th anniversary of settlement. Rather than directly compete with the Jamestown exposition, Seattle planners wisely delayed the AYP for two years. This delay proved to be quite fortuitous, as 1907 was a year with a weak economy, which likely would have lessened attendance, in addition to giving planners two extra years in which to make their exposition the best it could be.

The Klondike Gold Rush had made Seattle the dominant city in the Pacific Northwest, being the major source of supplies to Alaska. The goal of the AYP was to show off the growth and development of the Pacific Northwest, specifically Seattle, and to display the value of commercial trade with the Pacific Rim. When Japan agreed to participate, the AYP became a truly international, multi-cultural event, which planners of the AYP hoped would demonstrate cooperation between people from around the world. On a less philosophical level, city officials also hoped that the exposition would encourage people to relocate to the growing metropolis of Seattle.

Location for such an advertisement for the region was crucial, and needed to demonstrate the beauty of the region. Officials soon decided on the largely wooded grounds of the University of Washington, situated on Lake Washington, with Mount Rainier visible in the distance. The first $650,000 for the AYP was raised by proud Seattleites, who bought “shares” of the exposition. Much of the rest was funded by the sale of public lands and by the Washington State legislature, with the understanding that the buildings built for the exposition would become part of the University of Washington at the end of the AYP. John and Frederick Olmsted, son and stepson of Frederick Law Olmsted, prominent landscape architects in their own right, designed much of the AYP grounds.

Thanks to the extra two years of planning and the huge sums of money raised, the AYP grounds and exposition were everything the planners had hoped for. It was a fascinating mix of ethnic diversity and crass commercialism, but it clearly appealed to the people of the United States. Over 80,000 people attended the AYP on opening day in June 1909, and by closing day (October 16, 1909) 3.7 million people had paid to see attractions such as the Igorrote Village, and the Indian and Eskimo exhibits. They had seen animals built out of fruits and nuts, and rode on the Fairy Gorge Tickler. The AYP had been a huge success. Seattle officials were pleased to note that the AYP had drawn 700,000 people more than the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition had attracted in the rival city of Portland, Oregon.

Interestingly, while the AYP did bring enormous tourist dollars to the city of Seattle, there were few long-term benefits to the city. The hoped-for increase in population and trade did not occur. Alaska's tourism, however, did increase after the AYP. Nor did the buildings serve as much help to the University of Washington. Many of the buildings, built quickly and cheaply, were unusable, and few of the buildings lent themselves for use as classrooms. The impressive forestry building, almost completely built of logs, was destroyed by beetles. Today, the only remnants of the AYP remaining on the University of Washington Campus are the Drumheller fountain (then known as 'Geyser Basin'), Cunningham Hall and the Architecture Building, and a structure now used by the campus physical plant.

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