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Our History
Past Commandants

1955 and 1956 John Jewett *

1957 Eugene Hauck *

1958 Wallace Olsen *

1959 Robert McCurdy *

1960 S.A. Opsata *

1961 Earle Glant *

1962 Phil Simon e

1963 Donald Jordan *

1964 James Waesche *

1965 Harold Shallow *

1966 Chester Valley *

1967 David Ostreich *

1968 Konrad Erikson *

1969 John Fuda *

1970 Bill Rose *

1971 Phillip Buck e

1972 Murry Luther *

1973 Walter Guidinger *

1974 Donald Jones *

1975 Howard Hill *

1976 Walter Foote *

1977 Don Sidel *

1978 J. D. Ott *

1979 Lynn Oswald e

1980 Douglas A. Thompson e

1981 Bill Baines e

1982 Gene Merlino *

1983 Bob Fox *

1984 Dick White e

1986 Rick Mickels e

1987 Arvin Vander Veen e

1988 Bruce McDonald

1989 Victor Lebel e

1990 Tom Hill e

1991 Mike Popke e

1992 Tony Armstrong e

1993 Ed Ramirez e

1994 Arthur W. Braden

1995 Dick Gilbert e*

1996 Joe Wheat e

1997 Don Roberts

1998 Eric Wechselberger

1999 Ray Biggs

2000 Ray Brand e

2001 Tom McGrath e

2002 Diane Masson

2003 Tim Hinson e

2004 Kim Pierce e

2005 Jerry Knobf e

2006 & 2007 Tom Warnke e

2008 Laurent Martin

2009 Ken North

2010 John Andor

2011 Joe Gong

2012 Bruce Bentley*

2013 Paul Davis

2014 Dee Lee*

2015 Moe Pilgrim

2016 Neal Christiansen

2017 Jen Gonyer e

2018 Gary Stenberg

2019 Mary Valmonte

2020 & 2021 Barb Taylor

2022 Gary Stenberg

2023 Joe Gong


e  Emeritus

*   Deceased

The foundation for Seafair was laid during the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition staged between June 1, 1909 and October 16, 1909. The excitement of that Exposition carried on and the following year this article appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

 “So far the suggestion of a water carnival to be held sometime in August of each year has met more favor than any other suggestion and there seems to be no reason for doubting the ability of promoters to work out a series of water events which would of the most attractive and popular midsummer celebrations In the country".

 Suggestions were to have a festival that would include the thousands of “Indians” that annually came to the area to pick hops who would add to a “Potlatch” of national renown. Potlatch, in Chinook terms means “feast of extreme extravagance on part of the host." The Potlatch idea caught fire and was staged in mid-July 1911.  Seattle would have an event that would challenge the Portland Rose Festival and gain national attention. Each year from 1911 to 1914 there was a Golden Potlatch.  It was discontinued after that year for lack of a continuing professional organization after non-salaried civic promoters got tired.

 The first Golden Potlatch in 1911 had a small United States Navy Fleet; the British sent a sloop of war. There was even a hydroplane exhibition run by the “Triad" owned by Glenn Curtiss of airplane fame.  A barge was burned in Elliott Bay, an auto climbed up Queen Anne Hill and the grand finale, a night Masked Mardi Gras parade.

 In 1912 Jean Romano's wingless hydroplane, which looked like a giant spider, thrilled spectators with a 30 M.P.H. exhibition run off Harbor Island. In 1913 the Golden Potlatch staged three hydroplane races off Madrona Park: a 15 mile race for 16-footers, a 20 mile contest for 26 footers and a 30 mile free for all. The 1914 Golden Potlatch festival fever dwindled after the International Workers of the World (IWW), which was known as a communist organization, mauled five sailors from the fleet. Needless to say this didn't sit well with the Navy which proceeded to ransack the IWW offices.  The 1914 Potlatch had a tough act to follow and after that year ceased operation until 1934 when the Golden Potlatch was revived. The depression period of 1936 and 1937 again dampened the festival. It limped along until the beginning of WWII when it became impractical and unpatriotic.

 However, during the war there was a need for war savings bond rallies, recruitment drives and victory promotions:  Victory Square was born. One block on University Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues, a marathon run of noon time shows was staged. Victory Square began on May 1, 1942 and continued daily until Labor Day every year until the end of the war. After WWII, people who had moved to the area and returning servicemen wanted to promote the greatness of the Northwest.

 A group called the Washingtonians, Inc. was formed to advance tourism and business for the region. The Washingtonians group and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce pressed the idea. In 1947 mayor William F. Devin called a meeting of business, labor and civic leaders to promote a great fair or festival. Ideas and enthusiasm were building, but did not focus. In 1948 the Washington Federation of Garden Clubs staged a campaign to have Seattle officially named the “City of Flowers".  In January 1948 the City Council passed the resolution which has never been rescinded. The official flower of Seattle is the “Dahlia".  A City of Flowers festival was staged the first week In May 1949. The festival included a parade that drew over 80,000 hardy folks on a rainy day. The celebration was deemed a success and thoughts of a larger celebration were increasing.

 Promoters for the City of Seattle have always come from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of reasons to be involved with community events. That trait is still present in today’s festival, but pride in ones community and promotion of business have always been two of the main motivating factors. Other cities were staging festivals, but where was Seattle's?  Meetings were taking place and in 1949 it was announced that Seattle would hold a Water Show in the summer of 1950. There was no money, no name and no director. Business leaders formed an organization named Seattle Salts to promote the event.
 The Initial budget was anticipated to be $25,000 to $50,000. Supporting memberships to businesses and individuals were sold. Special Seattle Salts pins were made and sold for $1.00. Ideas for the events came in for water parades, maritime races of all types, fly-ins by seaplanes and even an underwater canasta tournament in the Ballard locks was proposed. The Harmsworth Trophy Unlimited Hydroplane Race was negotiated.  

 Still another organization, Greater Seattle, Inc. was formed and strongly supported by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, a committee on Centennial Planning. The first paid director, Walter Van Camp, was snatched away from the St. Paul Winter Carnival. The two organizations soliciting funds, the Seattle Salts for the Water Festival and Greater Seattle, Inc. for the Centennial Celebrating merged on April 10, 1950 into Greater Seattle, Inc. with the festival 20 weeks away. The festival became Seafair, a name suggested by an eleven year old son of one of the founders.

 Memberships in the new organization were sold at $10.00 to raise funds. Seattleites that joined received a special copper bronze medal and became known as Greater Seattle Salts to promote the maritime flavor of the festival.  The water show, Aqua Follies, was to take place at an outdoor water theatre to be built on the shores of Green Lake.  It opened the first week in August 1950 after around the clock design, permits and construction in less than 90 days. Try that with wetlands restrictions and the permit process today.

 The first Seafair had been a success, but without a grand finale. Hello Stan Sayres, Slo-mo-shun IV and the Gold Cup Unlimited Hydroplane race; shades of the 1911 Golden Potlatch hydroplane exhibitions years. The Lake Washington event has since added air shows and other water exhibitions. It is still Seafair's grand finale.

 Community festivals always post a challenge for fund raising. In 1955 funds were desperately needed for many of the events, one of which was the giant fireworks display. John Jewett, the first Commandant, organized the Commodores for that and other events by enlisting companies to provide executives as members. One of the original Idea men of the time, Ralph Grossman, Is still a Commodore.

 The Commodores have added Honorary Commodores from the entertainment field, mayors, astronauts and outstanding citizens who contribute to the quality of the Puget Sound area.

 The Commodores in their white dinner jackets present a picture of civic pride, community spirit and hospitality.

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