Sunday, April 14, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
Forty years of culture in the heart of Seattle
Seattle Center has become a remarkable arts district: the official home of theater, opera, ballet, concerts, art exhibitions ... with the occasional artistic controversy thrown in for good measure. Piano fanatics flew here from Japan to catch a glimpse of Horowitz; Jimi Hendrix played here, then was memorialized in a wake, and later in a museum.
Today, we trace that 40-year progress with some of the more interesting artistic twists and turns over the years. There's plenty of absurd stuff that didn't make the list — the guy who fell through the roof at a Kinks concert, the horse that crashed to the stage in the triumphal scene in "Aida" and nearly landed in the orchestra pit — but we're giving you all the really important milestones.
And at the end, we give you a chance to add more. Read on!
1962: Century 21 World's Fair opens. Elvis arrives to film "It Happened At the World's Fair." We don't know whether he bumps into Igor Stravinsky, arriving to conduct the opening concert in the Opera House, with Van Cliburn as piano soloist. (The Opera House is a refurbished version of the Civic Auditorium, built in 1927 and serving as the part-time home of the Seattle Symphony. Also constructed in 1927: the Arena, now the Mercer Arts Arena, and a recreation field. A city brochure at the time praised the new facilities as a home for "conventions, expositions ... lovers of music and the drama ... admirers of horses, dogs and poultry." Poultry?)
The Joffrey Ballet begins its annual pilgrimage to the Opera House, thrilling dance lovers with such presentations as "Astarte" (which made the cover of Time magazine).
1963: The Seattle Repertory Theatre opens its first season in the Playhouse.
1964: Seattle Opera opens its first season, with Glynn Ross as founding artistic director.
1964: The Beatles play the Coliseum, and thousands of enraptured girls wanna hold their hands.
1968: Jimi Hendrix galvanizes Coliseum audiences with "Foxy Lady" and other hits. A short two years later, an impromptu wake draws hundreds of mourners — including jazz great Miles Davis — to the area around the International Fountain.
1971: Bumbershoot makes its debut bow at the Seattle Center as "Festival '71" and initially, it's free. One inaugural highlight: a "Miss Hot Pants" contest.
1972: Pacific Northwest Dance Association is founded, soon becoming Pacific Northwest Ballet. In 1973, the company makes its Opera House debut.
1972: The Northwest Folklife Festival is founded, drawing the public to an array of free performances (they're still free — more or less).
1975: "Le Corsair," a 750-lb. bronze statue depicting a sexually ambiguous dancer in a bizarrely outstretched pose, lands in front of the Opera House and promptly becomes the most reviled piece of public art in the city. A decade later, the dancer makes an arabesque into storage, where it reportedly still reposes.
1975: Seattle Opera presents its first summer production of Wagner's four-opera classic, "The Ring of the Nibelung," in both German and English, beginning a Wagnerian tradition that continues through the present. Ring-obsessed visitors arrive from every state and several foreign countries.
1976: Vladimir Horowitz, arguably the greatest pianist of the century, emerges from a long performing hiatus and plays a rare West Coast date that proves to be his final Seattle appearance. Planeloads of Japanese admirers fly in for the concert because it's his closest engagement to Asia.
1978: Tutmania strikes! The touring King Tut Exhibition ("Treasures of Tutankhamen") comes to the Flag Plaza Pavilion, with 1.3 million visitors lining up for blocks to see the incredible gold mask of Tut and other magnificent artifacts.
1983: Seattle Rep's new Bagley Wright Theatre opens, after 10 friends of the eponymous arts activist/philanthropist pool their money in order to name the theater after Wright. The Intiman Theatre later moves into the vacated Playhouse.
1983: The acclaimed Pacific Northwest Ballet "Nutcracker," with Kent Stowell's choreography and designs by Maurice Sendak, premieres in the Opera House.
1986: The first Seattle International Children's Festival begins a tradition of colorful international performances of song, dance, theater and spectacular events from around the world.
1990: The City Council's Seattle Center 2000 plan calls for many renovations and improvements, plus a new home for the Seattle Children's Theatre (the Charlotte Martin Theatre), the Children's Museum and Pacific Northwest Ballet.
1993: Pacific Northwest Ballet's Phelps Center, imaginatively built above existing space in the Exhibition Hall, opens with new state-of-the-art spaces for the company's rehearsals, school, costume shop and offices. The nearby Charlotte Martin Theatre opens its doors to hordes of delighted children and families.
1995: The Coliseum reopens as the completely remodeled KeyArena, with an all-star opening featuring the Seattle Symphony (with several Sonics players as guest percussionists) under the baton of Gerard Schwarz, and Jose Carreras — one-third of the Three Tenors — as the big-name soloist.
1998: The Seattle Symphony leaves the Opera House for its new home downtown at Benaroya Hall, relieving a long-standing scheduling gridlock at the Opera House.
1999: Seattle Center announces plans for Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, rebuilding the Opera House in a comprehensive upgrade to be completed in the summer of 2003. Meanwhile, arts presentations will go on in the remodeled Mercer Arts Arena.
2000: The Experience Music Project opens in a flurry of concert activity, with headliners including Metallica, James Brown, Bo Diddley, the Eurythmics and Dr. Dre.
2002: The revamped Mercer Arts Arena transforms a hockey stadium into a serviceable opera house for Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet, while the Opera House is undergoing its transformation into McCaw Hall.
Now it's your turn! Send us your own best Seattle Center arts-and-entertainment memories. Were you there when Elvis sightings weren't wishful thinking? Could you actually hear the Beatles over all the screaming? Do you still wear your King Tut cartouche ring? We want to hear from you; write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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