Fifty years ago, the Space Needle was born. The opening of the Century 21 World’s Fair was quite the feat for Seattle and surrounding areas in 1962. The whole endeavor created jobs for all, and Madison Park grew even more in popularity.
Our neighborhood became especially popular with airline crews like Flying Tiger, as well as some World’s fair workers who found it far from dull. Word spread what a perfect singles’ area it was: a village unto its own, with grocery stores, gas stations, taverns and eateries. The economy was great, except that gas had risen from 25 cents a gallon to 31 cents.
I had moved to Kirkland for a short while after being in the service and met a friend there. We hit all the nightlife: one restaurant called The Flame and one tavern, The Central.
We laughed at the one, lonely traffic light in town: She was a student of dance who had left the area shortly after I moved back to Madison Park.
Some buddies and I who had worked at the Atlas Missile program together after the service heard about a party near Leschi featuring Gracie Hansen and members of her variety show. She was an entertainer from Morton, Wash., who had a show called “Paradise International,” a Las Vegas-style floor show that played on “Show Street” at the World’s Fair.
Well in advance, we decided to signal each other for an exit if it was dull and abscond. We found the bar, and perhaps with just the right amount of alcohol and one sliver of ice for effect, it might wake our personalities.
There was a sizeable crowd, and some girls in Gracie’s review were in costume. Just as we toasted to enduring this mild happening, I heard, “Hey, Kirkville!” I looked and there, made up like Las Vegas standing in heels — making her taller than me — was my friend from Kirkland.
We conjured up various Kirkland memories, like trying to find popular songs on the jukebox at The Central — they only had country-western. She reminded me of the time we pulled up to a light and asked some police officers on the street, “Where are all the people — in jail? Can we get arrested so we can join the party?”
Soon, she introduced us to her equally eye-catching dance mates, and as we talked, I noticed my smiling buddies and mischievously asked, “Should we look for the side door?”
“There’s someone here who lives across from The Red Onion, in that triangular building,” one of my friends announced.
After introducing us to the puppet master in Gracie’s street show, he motioned to his friend, Christa Speck, surrounded by a wall of really friendly men. After she broke through the wall, she greeted the puppet master.
Christa was a Playboy magazine foldout in 1961 and Playmate of the Year in 1962. When she left her apartment in the morning, she waved to everyone in the Hollywood Barbershop. She had a very warm wave, it was said.
Another Playboy magazine model lived above Leschi: Melinda Townsend.
When the World’s Fair died down, Gracie moved to Portland, Ore., and opened an act at the Hoyt Hotel, which was well received.
A short trip
A bunch of us would meet at one of our local pubs, then drive to the Jackson train station to head for Portland.
Two to three cocktails later, we were eating dinner at one of the tables surrounding the circular stage.
The stage was elevated about 4 feet from the floor so everyone could see. When it was lowered, it became a dance floor, and we danced to music from a live orchestra.
The hotel bar was for men only and boasted spittoons.
At only $12 for a room, we could afford a breakfast of eggs Benedict the next morning and take in the sights of Portland.
At that time, alcohol was not served on Sundays in Washington, but Oregon had no problem with it. I remember that first Sunday the bars opened in our state. It was wall-to-wall appreciation in Madison Park.
That appreciation still abounds as we realize the beauty of using the pedestrian mode of transportation. Many have moved away from here, only to regret not having the ease of all kinds of services within blocks and the making of long-lasting friendships within a stone’s throw.
RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident. [[In-content Ad]]