TEMPLE to TIMBER
(Click the Photographs to Enlarge them.)
(First appeared in Pacific Feb. 28, 1984, and then was included in Seattle Now and Then Vol. 1, which was published later that year. It can be read – all of it – on this blog. Look for the History Books button on the front page.)
The Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exposition officially opened at noon on the first day of June 1909 when President William Howard Taft, pressing a golden key, sent a telegraphic signal from Washington D.C. Soon after the doors of the Forestry Building swung open. Then while the popular Pop Wagner’s band played the Stars and Stripes Forever from the bandstand outside, “the crowds surged through the great structure admiring its massive architecture and its varied assortment of exhibits.” Actually, this building overwhelmed the exhibits inside it.
There were two ways (at least) to describe this outsized “temple to timber”: with poetry and with statistics. The favorite numbers recited were of its 320-foot length — “as long as a city block” – and the 124 logs that supported its roof and two towers. The 80 on the outside were an average 5&1/2 feet thick, 50 feet high, and “left in their natural clothing of bark.” Those inside were stripped of theirs; but all 124, “selected for their symmetry and soundness,” were unhewed and weighed about 50,000 pounds each.
The poetic response to this building saw it as a “taming of the wild forest where the forest is yet seen.” It was likened to an artistic arrangement of wild flowers into a bouquet. The more popular poetry repeated over and over again on postcards and from park benches was that here was “the largest log cabin in the world!”
The building’s architects, Saunders and Lawton, had with substantial grace shaped Washington State forest products into the AYP’s classic revival architectural style. From the outside the Forestry Building looked “like a Greek temple done in rustic.” However, on the inside it was a lumber sideshow, filled with the freaks of forestry-like a pair of giant dice six feet thick, cut from a single block and captioned “the kind of dice we roll in Washington.” Also on show was the “Big Stick” which, at 156&1/2 feet long, was “one immense piece of milled timber,” and the 19-foot thick stump with a winding staircase to a cabin built on its top.
With this kind of preparation it was expected that when the fair was finished its Forestry Building would become the woodsy quarters for the University’s Department of Forestry. Instead, it became home of the Washington State Museum and a growing family of hungry wood-chewing beetles. The latter ultimately pushed out the former, and by 1931 this “temple of timber” was razed to sticks. Now in its place is the brick HUB, or Husky Union Building.