The History of Capital Lakefair

by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS

This year Capital Lakefair celebrates 60 years of service to our community and the communities around Olympia. The history of Lakefair begins with the lake itself: Capital Lake was built as an artificial structure in 1950. Swimming, boating and other activities took place in the lake. Capital Lakefair was created as an event to celebrate waterfront activities and to bring people to the downtown and lakefront core of the city.

In 1957, according to past co-president Bob Barnes, a group of downtown businessmen decided to create an annual celebration at the lake. The first parade in 1958 had no floats. Instead, it included a boat pulled by a car. It boasted, not a Lakefair Queen, but a “Lady of the Lake,” Marjorie Stackhouse from Olympia High School, who rode in the boat. Local businessman and long-time Lakefair booster Allen Miller said early Lakefair festivals were probably patterned after Seafair in Seattle. But from the beginning of Lakefair, the princesses and queens have always been local high-school students. Originally they were seniors, but now juniors are chosen from a select group of applicants, all of whom must have at least a 3.3 grade point average and a record of service in their community.

In Lakefair’s early years, entertainment included a baton-twirling contest, a diving show, a hydroplane race, square dances and a teen dance. At that time, the fireworks display was at Stevens Field instead of over the lake. Local nonprofit service clubs ran food booths for the small carnival run by Rainier Shows on the south end of Water Street. The carnival is now run by Funtastic Shows.

After the first few years of boats being towed in the parade, the first Lakefair float was created in 1961 and traveled around the state, taking honors at Seafair. Events in those early festivals focused on water activities, including log rolling, sailboat racing, swimming competitions, water polo and water skiing. Arts and crafts were added in 1986 and a car show the next year.

Miller has been involved with Lakefair for over 20 years. In 1998, as president of the Chamber of Commerce, he chose the Lakefair queen. He said the navy brought the U.S.S. Olympia to Port Plaza during Lakefair that summer, and that the navy came to town every year between 1998 and 2007. In the latter year, the practice was deemed a potential liability, due to antiwar protestors at the port, and naval visits ceased.

Lakefair’s first-year budget was only $500, but its annual budget has grown to nearly $300,000. Nowadays about 200,000 people attend, and 10,000 to 12,000 watch the Lakefair Grand Parade. Nonprofit food vendors sell around $200,000 during the five-day event. “That’s a very big profit for those nonprofits, and they turn around and give it back to the community,” Barnes said.


Note: this is an archived story. The following dates will not reflect this year’s event. For information on this year’s event visit



Capital Lakefair


Heritage Park, Fifth Ave. at Water St., Olympia


July 12-16
Car show 5:30 p.m. Friday, July 14
Lakefair Grand Parade 5 p.m. Saturday, July 15;
Fireworks 10 p.m. Sunday, July 16


Free admission (booth, ride and vendor prices vary)



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