Greetings from Christmas Island

Merry Christmas! I hope you all have been having a wonderful holiday! As my gift to you, I present you with this 1960s view of Christmas Island.

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I’m away from my scanner at present. I’ll post a clearer photo later.

In September 1941, Olympia resident Leonard Huber started working on a lighted Christmas display in hopes of winning a contest. The contest was later cancelled, but Huber completed the display at his Eastside Hill home and lit it up Sunday, December 21st, only two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Over 5,000 people came by his house at the corner of Fairview Street and 11th Avenue that Sunday, and even more came through Monday morning. According to Huber, many people fell to their knees at the Nativity display complete with angels, shepherds, wisemen, and a church.

For the war years, the display remained dark, but it returned in December 1946, attracting more than 10,000 visitors in its first week before a fire caused by an overheated stove destroyed most of the display. Huber rebuilt it, and 1947 brought more than 45,000 visitors. Olympia’s one on-duty police officer took it upon himself to direct the holiday display traffic.

For the next three years, Huber relied on outside sources for funding the popular display, and the local police were proactive in safely routing the traffic generated. However, by 1950 neighbors and city leaders had enough and the display was moved to Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. Throughout the 1950s, “Huber’s Sacred Scenes” would be displayed at the Duwamish Drive-In Theatre and at a North Seattle cemetery.

But in 1959, Huber’s display made a grand return to its hometown as the new Christmas Island. Funded by local businesses and assembled by the Army Corps of Engineers, Christmas island was a near-300-foot barge boasting a one-ton, 16-foot stainless steel cross in addition to a nativity scene and nearly 20,000 lights.

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Christmas Island floated on Capitol Lake for only three years before burning down while in storage. Local organizations raised money to replace the display, but without the Army’s support, 1964’s Christmas Island was located on a solitary dock.

Christmas Island eventually returned to its floating state and lit up Capitol Lake every Christmas season until 1982 (with the exception of a stint in Boston Harbor in the mid-1970s).

In the 1980s, Huber was involved in an ownership lawsuit with the Island’s support organization and Christmas Island was moved to a stormwater pond behind the South Sound Mall Sears until the mid-90s. For the next few years, the Huber family displayed portions of the Island at Huber’s Gasthaus, an special event space.

The Olympia Metro Church displayed Christmas Island from 1998-2008, when the display was again put into storage.

In 2012, the Maytown Assembly of God brought Christmas Island out of storage and displayed most of it on church grounds. The church, located at 2920 Tierney St SW in Olympia, continues to host the display every year.

Drop by and see it if you have the chance! Merry Christmas!

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On the Shores of Green Lake

What is that strange concrete structure perched on the south end of Seattle’s Green Lake? It’s a staircase, it’s a set of bleachers…It’s the Aqua Theatre!

Or, at least, what’s left of the Aqua Theatre.

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The Aqua Theatre, October 23, 2010

Now just a shell of its former self, its hard to envision what the theatre looked like in its glory days. Today, it’s a popular spot for joggers, and the perfect bench for anybody wanting to rest a while and look out over Green Lake, but at its peak, it had the capacity to seat 5,582 people.

Built in a mere 67 days for the first-ever Seafair (1950), the 5,200-seat Aqua Theatre would become one of Seattle’s most popular outdoor performance venues. At a total cost of $247,000 (about $2,477,741.49 today), the Aqua Theatre was by no means a budget building, but for the next two decades its seats would often be filled to capacity for concerts, plays, and other performances.

Opening day for the Aqua Theatre was August 11, 1950 for what an advertisement described as a “flashy, splashy water spectacle”– The first-ever performance of The Aqua Follies–and it sold out. 5,200 people came to see a night of ballet, comedy, singing, dancing, and high-diving.

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Aqua Follies Ad from 1963 Seafair Booklet

Aqua Follies performances (also called “Swim Musicals”) enjoyed immense success throughout the 1950s, as did other forms of entertainment. The Summer Opera Company produced “Music Under the Stars”, concert versions of operettas accompanied by ballet. Full-length plays and musicals including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Oklahoma!”, and “The King and I” were also performed at the Aqua Theatre to the music of a floating orchestra.

To accommodate the popularity of the shows, 382 additional seats were added in 1960. Two years later, the World’s Fair brought visitors from around the globe to Seattle and the Aqua Theatre for an array of events from musicals to a jazz festival to performances by Bob Hope. The Aqua Follies performed for 21 nights, rather than the usual 13. But along with the visitors and the success, the World’s Fair also brought new, indoor performing spaces, such as the Coliseum (now Key Arena) that were fresh, comfortable, and out of the rain.

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View from the Top

The Aqua Follies performed their last show in 1964, and the theatre began its descent into disuse and disrepair. It remained a venue for concerts, often catered toward the younger crowd. On August 8, 1966, The Northwest Battle of the Bands Championship was held at the theatre. For as little as $2 (about $15 today), a person could see Don & the Goodtimes, Merrilee & the Turnabouts, The Sonics, George Washington & the Cherrybombs, The Bumps, The Live Five, Jack Horner & the Famous Plums, Dusty Springfield,  Sam Sham & the Pharaohs, and vote for a winner!

On May 11, 1969, the Aqua Theatre hosted Three Dog Night with opening acts Spring, Jaime Brockett, Translove Airlines, and Led Zeppelin. The theatre and surrounding areas was packed. Those who didn’t have tickets perched in trees, sat atop the concessions stand, sprawled out on nearby lawns, huddled on a nearby dock (causing it to sink slightly), and crowded the stage in canoes and rubber rafts. Some even swam in the stage’s pool!

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Later that summer, city inspectors discovered that the structure was damaged and the facility was condemned. The Aqua Theatre’s last performance was on August 20, 1969, featuring the Grateful Dead.

The following year, the diving towers were removed and the demolition slowly progressed until 1979 when most of the seating was demolished and a new shell house was built.

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Top Corner

I visited the Aqua Theatre in October 2010 (I sure wish I was there August 8, 1966, instead!) It has a wonderful history board hanging on the back side, filled with information and historical pictures. The theatre itself is quite a sight to see! I’m not sure why large chunks were cut out of the structure (structural soundness, perhaps?), but the remains account for about 3 out of 7 original seating sections.

It was fun to look out at the lake and envision where the stage once was.

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For further information, and great historical images and memorabilia, I encourage you to check out these links on Historylink.org:

Aqua Theatre–Seattle

Led Zeppelin Rocks Seattle’s Outdoor Green Lake Aqua Theatre on May 11, 1969

Also, check out this great Aqua Theatre footage from the Kiro 7 Archives.

And, of course, if you ever find yourself near Green Lake, I encourage you to go see what remains of the Aqua Theatre for yourself.