In the last installment we looked at a brief history of the RV industry and how my family became involved within it.
In this installment we will take a look at the history of The Seattle RV Show as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this event.
The origins of The Seattle RV Show and many other “trailer shows” owe their beginnings to the TCMA (Trailer Coach Manufacturers Association). The TCMA was formed March 5th, 1936 with offices in Detroit and Los Angeles, holding its first show the same year. The mission of the TMCA was to promote the “trailer” (the term RV was not yet coined) industry and set recommended construction standards for its members. At this point in time there was little, if any, differentiation between trailers for recreational purposes (i.e. travel trailers) and trailers to serve as housing (i.e. mobile homes). One of the earliest shows produced by the TCMA was held in August 1939, at Manistee, Michigan where twenty-eight manufacturers showed 95 models. Sometime in the late 1950’s the organization was opened to trailer dealers as well as trailer manufacturers. With the change of membership qualifications the “M” for “manufacturers” was dropped from TCMA and the organization became known as TCA (Trailer Coach Association). Soon a Seattle chapter of the TCA was formed by local trailer dealers and manufacturers. In 1963 the TCA held their first trailer show in the Seattle Center Coliseum with the Seattle chapter doing all the leg work. Proceeds from the show were sent to the western TCA headquarters in Los Angeles with a small portion being returned to the Seattle chapter. After a few years of this arrangement the Seattle TCA chapter realized that they were getting the short end of the deal as they were doing all the work and getting little in return. In 1966 six “trailer businesses” each contributed $1,100 to capitalize the MHRV (Manufactured Home Recreational Vehicle) Show Association, Inc. taking over control of the annual trailer show in Seattle. At that time a typical trailer show in the Seattle Coliseum consisted of mobile homes parked on the arena floor with travel trailers and those new fangled motorhomes displayed around the outer rim of the building. In an attempt to get more people to come to the show (and the fear that nobody would pay to come to a trailer show) an entertainment troupe would be hired to perform twice daily at the show. Two entertainers that I recall were Mickey Finn and a Western Variety Show featuring Michael Landon. One of the monikers given the show, to promote the leisure lifestyle trailers offered, was “the way of life show”.
More mature readers may recall that the arena floor of the Coliseum was about 5ft below grade requiring a ramp to get vehicles onto the floor. As mobile homes became wider and longer the ramp became more of an issue during move in and move out of the show. The concrete on both ends of the ramp, along with the ramp itself, bore the scars of the annual trailer show. More than one trailer became temporarily stuck while moving in or out of the show. In the late 60’s the demand for exhibit space exceeded what was available in the Coliseum, the temporary solution (not a great one) was to display some mobile homes outside on the Seattle Center grounds. The long term solution to this problem was creating a second show at the Puyallup Fairgrounds in 1972 where there was plenty of room for mobile homes and RVs. This left future Coliseum trailer shows as a mostly RV show.
The early 1970’s also was an exciting time for pro-sports in Seattle as an expansion NFL football team was awarded to the city. Needing a place to play pro football the King County Domed Stadium was proposed. Even with mobile homes being moved to the Puyallup Show, the Coliseum was still too small to meet the growing needs of the Seattle RV Show. MHRV quickly lent their support to the proposed stadium, stating to the county council, “if you build it, we will come”. In fact, the first consumer show scheduled for the new domed stadium was the Seattle RV Show, however we surrendered our dates to a higher power when the Billy Graham crusade came to town May 14th, 1976.
Still the RV Show moved to the new stadium in that year featuring Winnebago’s “Flying Motorhome“. The show layout consisted of RVs on main floor with booth exhibitors on the perimeter “100 level”. It wasn’t long after the opening of the new domed stadium that it was dubbed the “Kingdome” with the RV Show being referred to as the Kingdome RV Show.
In the early 80’s the Kingdome became the temporary home to the Seattle Sonics (remember, they were Seattle’s NBA team once upon a time) when the “obsolete” leaky Coliseum was to be renovated to Key Arena. For one year the RV Show returned to the Coliseum while the Sonics became accustom to playing in the Kingdome. To draw attention to the show KIRO’s Larry at Large (Larry Sturholm) performed a flagpole sit to raise money for Leukemia research. It is worth noting that Larry’s roost during the “sit” was a bit more luxurious (see photo) than his predecessors! The following year, during renovation, the RV Show was literally left out in the cold utilizing the playing field of Memorial Stadium as its temporary home. To protect the astro turf playing surface, a two foot square of plywood was placed under each tire of every RV displayed at the show. Needless to say after the RV show moved back to the Kingdome there were many patch work projects built in Western Washington with those left over plywood squares!
With the show returning to the Kingdome, MHRV was once again faced with the problem of insufficient space as were other consumer shows. To alleviate the problem, the Pavilion (aka Hot Dog) was added to the south side of the Kingdome. The Pavilion was a soft sided sprung structure which added about 60,000 sq ft of exhibit space. By the mid 1990’s the Kingdome was deemed obsolete by many and a new open air stadium to be built on the same site was planned. Thankfully the county and others recognized the value of the consumer shows and an exhibition center was incorporated into the new stadium project. The last Kingdome RV Show was held in early 1999 with the Pavilion being demolished the day after the conclusion of the RV Show to make way for the new exhibition center. In March 2000 the Seattle RV & Outdoor Recreation Show was held in the new Washington State Stadium Exhibition Center utilizing the West and East halls.
In 2001 the Nisqually earthquake agitated the move-in process of the show quite a bit causing damage to the Exhibition Center and some RVs, along with an exhibitors van being crushed by a nearby collapsing building. Opening day of the show was cancelled while repairs were made to the Exhibition Center. With completion of the adjoining stadium in 2003 the show was able to expand into the West Field Plaza (aka North Hall) accommodating nearly 400 RVs at the 2005 show. Since then the RV show has contracted and expanded with the economy while being the best attended RV show in the region. The 2013 Seattle RV Show will feature 18 dealers displaying hundreds of RVs in the West and North Halls of the now named CenturyLink Event Center.
A lot of changes and memories have occurred over the past 50 years of The Seattle RV Show, I can only imagine what the next 50 will hold. Be sure to join us as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Seattle RV Show February 7th – 10th, 2013 where one lucky person will win a new 23ft travel trailer courtesy of Keystone RV.