February 15, 2009 by John Chilson
Man, sesquicentennial fever has gripped Oregon. Officially launched on Saturday with a kick-off party in Salem and lots of museums and organizations offering free admission, the party is just getting started – year-round events are planned all year to get people of all ages involved in the history of their state. And if the economy keeps tanking there’s going to be a lot more people with idle time on their hands – let’s hope some of the more expensive museums open their doors for free admission during 2009. I’ll certainly do my best to keep, um, “educating” readers about the best state in the union.
Fifty years ago Oregon also partied down and celebrated its 100th birthday. And they did it by holding the Centennial Exposition.
At the time it was the largest fair in the west since San Francisco World’s Fair of 1939. The expo began on June 10 and continued through September 17, 1959.
The exposition promised to “cover all phases of state activity with special attention paid to the basic exhibits of lumber, agriculture, electronics, powers, fashions, food processing, light metals, fishing and sports.” Yep, sounds like Oregon.
An aqua center featured seats for 7,000 spectators, and the promise of “water festivals and spectaculars will be performed on an estuary of the Columbia river adjoining the expo grounds.”
Total space for the expo was 80 acres with parking for over 15,000 cars.
Twenty-four countries participated by exhibiting their products and crafts – and each country were given full reign to get their biz on.
Most of the images in the post come from the official program. Chock full of ads, photos and editorial, the one thing that really sticks out is that many of the photos of the expo feature exhibits still being constructed, renderings of the grounds and lots of dirt paths.
The postcards I have managed to nab throughout the years are obviously more colorful but the traffic in them seems rather low. Three years later Seattle hosted the wonderful 1962 World’s Fair – and got the Space Needle and a monorail. What did we get? I’m not sure if anything still exists from the original grounds. But, I like to think the Oregon Centennial Expo was a bit more scrappy and DIY – kind of like Portland, now.
The site of the expo.
Two renderings, from what I can tell from photos, looked nothing like the completed grounds. Still, very cool style.
One of many exhibits.
The big board from the Pacific Telephone display “will show how calls are automatically routed.” Oh, 1959, you slay me.
Work still being done on the grounds. This shot shows the East Plaza of the 11-acre Expo building showing vivid [and very MODERN!] 510-foot mural by Hansen Associates covering the entire east wall. Was this mural actually done by muralist Carl Morris?
The fire sculpture was a 50-foot tower rising from a circular pool of water with gas flames 40 feet high that burned the entire 100 days of the expo. What happened to this?!
Here’s another shot from a postcard:
The top photo was the Lumber Industry Pavilion that was designed as a permanent structure to “show the freedom of expression possible in wood construction.”
Bottom photo is the PGE building of grilled concrete that showed the cycle of water usage from rain storms.
So, back to the Lumber Industry Pavillion and the permanent structure. My wild guess is that it now houses Marineland@ Pier 99 [image from the excellent waymarking.com]. Any clues or ideas? Here’s the original postcard shot for a better shot:
And my favorite structure from the expo:
The Hall of Religious History as seen from the Garden of Tomorrow. “Erected to house the murals of Carl Morris and the exhibits which portray the history of various religious faiths in Oregon.”
I’ve got more Expo imagery that I will be posting throughout the year. It really is one of my favorite Lost Oregon artifacts. Anyone out there want to share a memory of their attendance?