The 1962 World’s Fair put Seattle on the map, literally, with its pavilions full of unique exhibits, ground-breaking building design and the iconic Space Needle that would come to represent the city to the world. And one of those exhibits — according to area historians Alan J. Stein and Paula Becker — is sitting just off of SE 70th Place and East Mercer Way on Mercer Island.
An innovative, modular home created by the US Plywood Association, was billed at the fair as the “American Home of the Immediate Future,” and a “Living Research House” is one of many pieces of living history in the area — but one of the few being used for it's orignial purpose — according to Stein and Becker. The research on the home by the HistoryLink.org authors were uncovered in a new book, "The Future Remembered: The 1962 Seattle World's Fair and its Legacy,", and published on the eve of the Seattle World's Fair 50th anniversary.
Tucked into the space where the Seattle Children’s Theater at Seattle Center now resides, the home consisted of sections prebuilt by the PanelBild Division of US Plywood that were bolted together once they were situated on a lot, allowing the consumer to add or subtract rooms as needed. At the time, Mercer Island was regarded as an affordable suburb of Seattle and a far cry from today's median price of well over $900,000 for a single-family home. Once the World's Fair was over, the house was purchased by Jerome and Laverne Sugamele and transported to 7000 East Mercer Way on Mercer Island.
“This was a home that people could customize to buy a smaller or larger home, which was perfect for the baby boom generation who were increasing in family size and needed low cost housing,” said Becker, who also co-authored "Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Washington's First World's Fair: A Timeline History" with Stein a few years ago. “Of all the smaller building exhibits, this is the only one still being used for its original purpose.”
Though this first pre-fabricated modular home didn’t seem as futuristic as buildings like the Space Needle, it was a low cost, fast way to get into a home that could be any size families wanted it to be. The Worlds Fair home had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, service area, living room and den. “The heating, cooling, plumbing and wiring are pre-built into the 12 inch deep flooring for each of the modules,” said Becker. “That was great for the homeowners because you didn’t have the time and expense of putting in extra infrastructure, all that work is done before it comes to your lot, (with a poured concrete foundation). All you have to do is bolt the modules together, slap some siding on it, pop a roof on top and you can live in it.”
The Home of the Immediate Future is now in the hands of its third owners, Sherril and Jeff Small, who bought the home in 1990, and were quoted in a 2002 Seattle PI article in the Future Remembered, “Sherril says their master bedroom was painted the original orange from the fair when they moved in. The royal blue/lime green/pink/orange color scheme may look dated today, but this early modular home is a sturdy classic.”
Becker notes that she and her co-author Alan Stein discovered during the thousands of hours of research that went into the 50th anniversary tome that the resulting Seattle Center has become a huge community resource for the entire Puget Sound area, a gathering place for the Pacific Northwest Community. “The 1962 Worlds Fair came about at a time when people didn’t even know how to pronounce the word “Seattle,” or know where it was on the map,” she said. “The Fair brought people from all over the world here for 6 months, and after this seminal event was over, we had the icon of the Space Needle, we had the Intiman Playhouse, Seattle Center, the Pacific Science Center, the monorail and the fountain The World’s Fair taught Seattle what it could do as a community.”
Stein and Becker will offer a free presentation and slideshow about the 1962 World's Fair on Sunday, October 23rd at 1 p.m. at the . This will be the first event held after the publication’s release on Oct. 21.