It's time to let go of the fair

When David Hughbanks heard someone wanted to gut the interior of Seattle Center to make a park, his reaction was: It's about time.

Hughbanks, 69, has been around Seattle's No. 1 civic space so long he still calls the Center House the "Food Circus." He was head of special events for the World's Fair, that science and entertainment expo that birthed the Center and put the city on the world map back in 1962. The fair was everything the elders say it was, he says: a dazzling eruption of civic exuberance that somehow was utopian without being elitist.

But 44 years after the final Elvis sighting, maybe it's time to move on?

A good way to start is by demolishing the heart of the 87-acre fairgrounds itself.

"It was never supposed to stay like this," says Hughbanks, who served briefly as the Center's director. "Many buildings that were supposed to be taken down lasted for decades, unfortunately. Now we have a chance to get a green spot in the center of the city. We should seize it."

Last week, former Seattle Weekly editor David Brewster wrote an op-ed in The Seattle Times arguing we turn the middle of Seattle Center into an actual park, with grass, trees, playfields and wading pools.

The idea requires we make two radical leaps. One, for possibly the first time ever, we'd have to raze, not develop. Plant, not pave.

Second, we'd have to acknowledge that the World's Fair really is over.

That won't come easy. No event holds such a stranglehold on the Seattle ID — at least for folks past 50.

The current editor of the Seattle Weekly, Knute Berger, wrote last week that the fair was so groovy and democratizing that any changes to Seattle Center must preserve its spirit. A spirit he sums up as "cheap thrills, cheap food, tacky tchotchkes."

"Crass commercialism has a place, too," he wrote.

In our main civic space?

I was three years shy of being born when the fair was held. This has allowed me to escape the clutches of its mind-hold and see the Center for what it is today.

Take Center House. What I see is a food court stocked with Orange Julius like every other food court in every commercial mall in America.

Others talk of demolishing Memorial Stadium or the Fun Forest. But if all we do is tear down Center House, Seattle Center will be reborn. Not as a mall. As a spectacular outdoor play space, for picnics to music festivals. You could stand at the base of the Space Needle and see across the entire Center to International Fountain. The theater, school and museum could move to the perimeter.

Or take the grounds themselves. Much of them is covered in blacktop. Pavement may have been all the rage in 1962, but something more natural might suit 2006. Like grass.

Predictably, the mayor's task force for the Center is bent on commercializing it even more, and wants to add cafes and shops to Center House.

The last thing Seattle Center needs is another food court. Or more kitsch.

What it needs — long live the fair — is a jackhammer.

Danny Westneat's column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or