It’s Lakefair Time

by Alec Clayton

Capital Lakefair in its 66th season takes possession of Heritage Park on the shores of Capital Lake July 12 to 16, with carnival rides, food vendors, main stage entertainment, a parade and a half-marathon, a car show with more than 50 cars and crafts booths. And, as tradition has it, the weekend festivities culminate with a spectacular fireworks display Sunday night.

The festival was established in 1957 when residents and area small businesses sought to coordinate a family-oriented event in Downtown Olympia. Since then, Lakefair has helped to raise millions of dollars for non-profit food vendors, provided a venue for local and regional craft vendors, and provided more than $400,000 in scholarship funding for students from local high schools to pursue the trades and higher education. In addition to all of this, more than a dozen concessionaires line Water Street with a variety of dining options. 

History of Lakefair

Back in the late 1950s when the first Lakefair was held, what is now Heritage Park was called Capitol Lake Park. There was swimming in the lake. On the corner of 5th and Water Streets, two industrial firms occupied the buildings that extended out over the water on pilings.

According the Lakefair President Karen Adms-Griggs, In 1957 Two industrial firms occupied the corner of 5th and Water Streets, their buildings extending out over the water on pilings.

To beat the heat and summer boredom, several civic-minded Olympians sponsored a small carnival on the shores of Capitol Lake, on West 5th Avenue. Local non-profit service clubs ran food concessions set up on the south end of Water Street beyond the industrial firms. Events during the carnival included a diving show, a hydroplane race and fireworks display at Steven’s field. State Baton twirling contests were held during the day and teen dances at night and Square Dancers came from all over the Northwest to perform.

This was the start of an annual event. The Budget at the beginning was less than $500. In 1959 a parade was added, and the budget had grown to $1,400.

In 1961 Lakefair had its first float which traveled around the state representing the community and taking honors at the Seattle Seafair Parade. There were 110 units in the “Grand Twilight Parade.”

The state’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated in 1964 and Lakefair Buttons recognized the state event. Over 75,000 viewed the Grand Twilight Parade. During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s the main attractions were the water-orientated events. They included water skiing, sailboat races, swimming competitions, log rolling and water polo.

In 1966 Lakefair had a world champion diver who climaxed his act by diving off the top of an 80-foot crane into eight feet of water. Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson was the Parade Marshal in 1970. The Canadian Naval Training Vessels made annual visits during the 1980s.

An Arts & Craft show was added in 1986. In 1987 Lakefair added a Car Show. In 1988 “Kid’s Day” was started at Sylvester Park and was an instant success for the youngsters of our area. Beyond the fanfare, hoopla and crowning of the Queens, Lakefair stands out in our communities because it goes beyond doing away with summer boredom. It contributes to the economy of our communities. Many nonprofit organizations continue on food row as one of their main fundraising events of the year. Capital Lakefair is Olympia’s own festival, and celebrates 66 years of giving back to the community. The budget is approximately $250,000 and all year is spent planning and preparing for the five-day festival.

The Lakefair Scholarship Program has given out more than $300,000 in scholarship money to distinguished young women who continue on to college.

Shared Memories

Bob Barnes, an active member of Capital Lakefair for more than 40 years, including a couple of stints as president, fondly recalls the silver anniversary year, 1981, when he traveled to represent Olympia in festivals in Portland, Spokane, Leavenworth and eight other festivals and 12 to14 parades.

Roxanna Groves recalls “watching the fireworks over the lake from the top of courthouse hill — in the pouring rain.”

Susan Christian says, “Demo burgers were very delicious ordinary grilled burgers that got cooked by some Democratic Party boosters. Very popular! You could get yourself and your fairgoing companions a few Demo burgers and some Cokes and watch the fireworks over the lake AFTER you had gone around a number of times on the blessed Ferris wheel and the whole world would seem pretty okay.”

Jennie Patton remembers, “About 25 years ago I loaned my extension ladder to a neighbor who wanted to look into an inaccessible window high in the gable of a small duplex she was renting on 12th Avenue Southeast. In the unfinished attic space, she found papers and records of early Lakefair Royalty Courts. We suspected a Capitalarian stashed them away years before.”

From Dave Sederberg, “My fondest memories were the Lake Fair drag boat races on the south end of Capitol Lake. Thousands of people lined the shore. The Blue Angels would do a fly-over and I saw a drag boat do the 1/4 mile run 200+MPH. I have pictures. Different times, they were.”

And from Don Orr Martin, “Sometime in the early ’70s I went to Lakefair in summertime “drag” with a couple of my straight roommates. I had long hair then and tied it in a scarf. I wore a halter top and Daisy Dukes, lots of eye makeup and heels, I think. I thought for sure I would get threatened but as I recall I mostly got laughs and dirty looks. The carnies loved me. One even propositioned me. But I was too chicken to meet him after midnight.”

And Harlan Zinck, “Way back in 1977, I had a weekly show on The Evergreen State College’s KAOS-FM radio station. That summer, KAOS had a trailer at Lakefair, and I happened to stop by on the evening that the fireworks were scheduled. I chatted with the DJ on duty and we decided, at the last minute, that I would do fireworks play-by-play live. Prep consisted of plugging in a mic with a long cord, which we ran out the window to a nearby viewing spot.

“When the fireworks started, I realized very quickly why radio isn’t the best medium for narrating a fireworks show: without the visual element, it gets dull very quickly. Initially, I tried to describe the effect of each blast, something like “a huge blossom of blue with a series of bright white aftershocks” but, as the rockets started coming fast and furious, this degenerated into “there’s another blue one and, look, this one looks like a purple hydrangea — not the most fascinating radio for those who couldn’t also see the show.

“I don’t think KAOS ever broadcast a live audio fireworks show again…”

Nikki McCoy, “This one was used in the Olympian some time ago, but if it’s helpful you’re welcome to it:

“My mother went into labor while watching the Lakefair fireworks, so I literally came into this world with a bang. I’m a Lakefair baby and I love attending year after year — the nostalgia is magical and the food ain’t bad either.

“Hopefully you also have some tidbits about the Zipper — which is not a ride these days, but the most thrilling ride for years. I also loved the swings over Capitol Lake — feeling on top of the world, secured with one metal bar.”

Trace DeHavan, “I remember when they used to set up the flying chairs ride right next to the lake, so that as the ride got going and centripetal force would send the hanging chairs outward, you’d “fly” over the lake. Can’t take a ride like that no more, due to “safety” concerns. (idiot riders?)”

Capital Lakefair

Noon to 11 p.m. Wednesday, July 12 to approximately midnight Sunday, July 16



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