Pacific Northwest | December 28, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineDecember 28, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
POSTSCRIPTS
NOW & THEN
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT

An Amusing Streak
Photo
COURTESY OF DAN KERLEE

 
 Photo
PAUL DORPAT
The House Upside Down stood on the east side of the midway called the Pay Streak, the carnival street for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. The house teetered about 700 feet north of Portage Bay on a site that is now part of the University of Washington's Magnuson Health Sciences Center.
READERS MAY WISH to turn today's magazine upside down for a conventional introduction to the eccentric subject of the House Upside Down. Next return Pacific Northwest to its proper posture and note the gigantic piano on the far right.

The Pianotorium and the House Upside Down (HUD) are two of the 30-odd amusements erected along the Pay Streak of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition (A-Y-P) held on the University of Washington campus through the warmer months of 1909. These two architectural grotesqueries were propped midway between what is now the Burke Gilman Trail and Portage Bay in line with Stevens Way — if it ran this way through the south campus, which it does not.

Conforming to A-Y-P expectations, the House Upside Down also had a scientific apology. Henry Roltair, its manager, advertised HUD as featuring within it the "highest development of optical illusions and scientific information regarding optics." Outside, Roltair's pitchmen promised a more extreme science for those who handed across their dimes. Inside, they promised, were "labyrinthine circumvolutions of mazy wonders" and "multiflexuous anfractuosities" that would "simply paralyze the imagination."

This snapshot and these quotes all come from local A-Y-P scholar-collector Dan Kerlee. He discovered that by the time Roltair came to Seattle, he and his HUD were old fair attractions. In 1901 for the Pan American Expo at Buffalo, Roltair erected a HUD that, aside from a few ornaments, was the same as this one at the A-Y-P.

Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy's award-winning illustrated Washington state history, "Building Washington," is available for $50 from Tartu Publications, P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145; 206-547-7678.

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