On September 27, 1906, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition Company signs a lease with the University of Washington Board of Regents, providing for the A-Y-P to be sited on campus grounds. The A-Y-P will be a world's fair to be held from June 1 to October 16, 1909. The Grounds and Buildings Committee of the A-Y-P Company considered other locations in the city, including Bailey Peninsula (now Seward Park), Mount Baker Park, Washington Park, and Magnolia. The university campus's hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, proximity to downtown Seattle, and spectacular views of mountains and lakes all factor into its selection. UW Professor Edmond S. Meany (1862-1935) strongly advocated for the campus site because of the university would gain buildings for student use and the forested acreage would be cleared and graded for future construction.
The Search for a Site
When the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Company formed in May 1906, its members immediately began the search for a suitable location for the exposition. They needed a site that would accommodate numerous exhibit buildings as well as a midway, and that was close enough to downtown that visitors could easily reach it via streets, streetcars, or boats.
The Building and Grounds Committee considered Bailey Peninsula (now Seward Park), Mount Baker Park, Washington Park, Magnolia, and the University of Washington campus. Each of the sites met the basic requirements, but the university grounds stood out for its spectacular views of Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Mount Rainier; its expanse of undeveloped land (more than 300 forested acres remained); and the benefits that the university would accrue from the exposition, namely developed grounds and new buildings.
Kane and Meany: Campus Advocates
Between 1902 and 1906 the student body of the University of Washington grew from 600 to more than 1,200. Legislative appropriations had not kept up with the university's needs for new buildings and facilities and classes squeezed into every possible space. UW President Thomas F. Kane (1863-1938), in his annual report to the Board of Regents in 1906, wrote, "The worst handicap that we have had in our work this year has been due to a lack of room" (Kane, "Report and Recommendations").
Professor Edmond S. Meany (1862-1935) quickly emerged as an enthusiastic advocate for holding the exposition at the campus. He had long worked to improve the grounds and university. In 1904 he led an effort to institute Campus Day, an annual event where students worked at improving the campus grounds. As a trustee of the A-Y-P Company, he used his influence to encourage their selection of the campus. A correspondent from Cheney, Washington, wrote to Meany, "Allow me to congratulate you on the success of your efforts in securing from the University Campus a site for the Alaska-Yukon Fair. Nothing of recent years will mean so much for the University and I feel sure that if any one man is responsible for this choice, if is Prof. Meany" (Martin to Meany).
On June 7, 1907, the Grounds and Buildings Committee went before the University of Washington Board of Regents to ask permission to use the university campus for the exposition. The Regents agreed to the proposition, voting to allow a subcommittee to proceed with negotiations with the A-Y-P Company. Interestingly, on June 18th, the Grounds and Buildings Committee toured other possible sites, presumably to ensure that they'd made an informed decision as to the best site.
A Dry Fair
The A-Y-P Company and the University of Washington Board of Regents signed a lease on September 27, 1906, allowing the company to use the campus south of 41st Street for the exposition. The board allowed the company to use the land at no charge from October 1906 until January 1910, provided they returned the grounds to usable condition after the exposition, hired the Olmsted Brothers to create the plans for the grounds, and prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages at the fair.
The first two conditions posed no difficulties for the exposition company. John C. Olmsted (1852-1920) of the Olmsted Brothers firm agreed to take on the project and arrived in Seattle on October 14, 1906, to look at the grounds.
The ban on alcohol stemmed from an 1895 law that prohibited the sale of alcohol on or within two miles of the campus. The condition threatened the profit organizers could expect to earn from the fair. Other world's fairs of the era earned a substantial amount of their income from alcohol concessions. Further, the ban provoked the ire of members of the community, expressed bluntly in a newspaper editorial:
"There will be thousands if not tens of thousands of visitors to the Exposition who have been using Puget Sound Beer in foreign markets for years, but they are confronted with the vainglorious spectacle when they reach here of being looked upon as 'crime-breeders' if they should expect to get a drink of wholesome beer at the home of its manufacture, unless he takes a street car jaunt of some five or six miles to get it" ("No Beer -- No Subscription").
Nevertheless, organizers moved ahead with their site selection, confident that the fair would still achieve financial success. On June 1, 1907, Groundbreaking Day, work officially commenced on the site. In just two years workers would sculpt the forested hillside into a park-like setting for the more than 3.7 million visitors who would attend the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909.