After the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the Tokio Cafe was converted into a crew house, and then razed to make room for oceanography labs.
THIS WEEK, WE visit the University of Washington’s south campus. Our “Then” photo looks north from Portage Bay to the south facade of what was built as the Tokio Cafe for Seattle’s first World’s Fair, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. The Tokio was the most southerly of the attractions that opened on the Exposition’s carnival, the Pay Streak, which reached as far as the bay. Practically all the Streak’s approximately 50 attractions were international, like the Tokio, or eccentric, like the Upside Down House.
After the World’s Fair, the Pay Streak attractions were razed or recycled. The result was the barren corner of campus shown here, to either side of the seemingly stranded cafe. The Tokio, however, was saved. The university’s athletic department was in need of a new crew house for what was decreed in the press as “now the leading sport at state university.”
Actually, rowing took football’s place at the top only after the football season ended in November. In any season, rowing coach Hiram Conibear and football coach Gil Dobie contended for the athletic department’s resources and the media’s attention. To the delight of Conibear and his crews, the Japanese eatery was remodeled for storing the shells and building the spartan, we imagine, living quarters for the elite students selected to train and repeat the smooth and powerful paddling that ultimately would propel them to victory on the waters of the world.
Before the opening of the Montlake Cut in 1916, the crew’s stroking was for the most part restricted to the smaller Lake Union. On Jan. 28, 1917, The Seattle Times reported, “The Washington crew will row on Lake Union until March 1, when it will row through the canal each afternoon and practice on Lake Washington. Coach Conibear has issued a standing invitation to all who are interested in watching the boys work to go out in the coaching launch.”
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The Times report concludes with the last evidence I could find of Conibear’s oaring kingdom abiding here in the converted cafe: “The boathouse is at the foot of the Pay Streak of the Exposition.”
Conibear and his crews soon abandoned the Tokio for another useful oddity. This time, a larger shellhouse was made from a seaplane hangar built by the navy to help with waterway surveillance during World War I. Set at the eastern end of the Montlake Cut, it never accommodated planes, only shells.
In 1931, the Tokio’s footprint was covered by the university’s first oceanographic laboratories, built in the then-popular Collegiate Gothic style with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Until 1947, the oceanographers shared the future south campus with grass and sand traps. The 1947 groundbreaking for the new School of Medicine began the “cultivation” of the University Golf Club’s nine-hole course into a south campus overflowing with doctors, nurses, oceanographers and scientists.