Now celebrating its 45th consecutive year, the U District StreetFair is the longest running festival of its kind in the nation. In 1970, community leaders established the StreetFair to heal our community after protests, street riots, and violence disrupted the community. Originally a blanket-vending event with lots of free live music, the U District StreetFair has developed into a regional event that features products that are hand-made by individual artists and craftsmen in the USA. In celebration of the international flavor of our community, we invite food vendors to participate along with our many local restaurants to supply an around-the-world food experience.
The University District Chamber of Commerce held Seattle’s first modern street fair on May 23 and 24, 1970. Police close University Way NE to traffic from NE 50th Street to NE 41st Street, and turned over “The Ave” to 300 vendors and artists who catered to some 50,000 visitors during the weekend. The University District Street Fair is the brainchild of Andy Shiga (1919-1993), a Japanese American merchant in the U District and longtime pacifist, assisted by Safeco executive Ron Denchfield.
The success of the first University District Street Fair was all the more remarkable given the social and political tensions of the time. Riots had divided the U District community on several nights the previous August and only weeks earlier thousands of UW students had protested the United States invasion of Cambodia and the killings of four demonstrating students at Kent State.
Andy Shiga’s Legacy
Andy Shiga, a Japanese-American merchant and dedicated peace activist, first advanced the idea for the street fair as a way to heal community divisions and promote better understanding and tolerance. The University District Chamber of Commerce organized a planning committee, headed by Shiga and Safeco executive Ron Denchfield, in January 1970. They began considering an “art fair,” recalling an “open air arts festival” held in the U District in 1953, and invited a large number of craftspeople, artists, artisans, and other vendors to set up temporary booths along The Ave.
The proposal to close University Way NE was greeted with much skepticism by area merchants, but the fair proved an immense success, attracting 50,000 visitors during its first weekend. Subsequent fairs have attracted three times as many attendees and inspired other Seattle neighborhoods to stage similar events in their business districts. The annual University District Street Fair is currently (as of 2004) sponsored by the Greater University Chamber of Commerce.Sources: Excerpt taken from HistoryLink.org
Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995); Paul Dorpat and Walt Crowley, “The Ave: From Streetcars to Street Fairs” (unpublished mss., prepared for University District Chamber of Commerce, 1994). Note: This essay was revised on May 9, 2001, By Walt Crowley, May 11, 1999