Seattle’s Architectural Icon

The Stamp & Coin Place finds its home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest is often known for its rain, coffee, trees, and Seattle! We thought it would be fun to learn more about the architectural icon of Seattle; the Space Needle.

The Space Needle is an observation tower with a restaurant; it was built in the Seattle Center for the 1962 World’s Fair, which drew over 2.3 million visitors, when nearly 20,000 people a day used its elevators. Once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River, it is 605 ft (184 m) high, 138 ft (42 m) wide, and weighs 9,550 short tons (8,660 tonnes). It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude, as strong as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. It also has 25 lightning rods.

The Space Needle has an observation deck at 520 ft (160 m) and the rotating SkyCity restaurant at 500 ft (150 m). The downtown Seattle skyline, as well as the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands can be viewed from the top of the Needle. Photographs of the Seattle skyline often show the Space Needle prominently, above skyscrapers and Mount Rainier.

Visitors can reach the top of the Space Needle by elevators that travel at 10 mph (16 km/h). The trip takes 41 seconds. On windy days, the elevators slow to 5 mph (8.0 km/h). On April 19, 1999, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board designated it a historic landmark.

The creation of the Space Needle began in 1959, when Seattle hotel executive Edward E. Carlson, who was a chief organizer of the 1962 World’s Fair, traveled to Stuttgart Germany where he was inspired by a broadcast tower featuring a restaurant. He doodled an idea of a dominant central structure for the fair on a napkin in a hotel café convinced that such a tower could make a permanent center-piece for the fair and an enduring symbol for Seattle. He called it a “Space Needle.”

Carlson and his supporters soon found moving the symbol from doodle to the drawing

Aerial_photo_of_Space_Needle_under_construction,_1961

The Space Needle under construction – November 1961

board, and then to the construction phase, was far from easy. The first obstacle was the structure’s final design. Carlson’s initial sketch underwent many transformations, including designs that resembled a landed UFO, a tethered balloon and even a cocktail shaker with a tram ferrying visitors to the top.

Architect John “Jack” Graham, Jr. fresh from his success in designing the world’s first auto-centric shopping mall (Seattle’s Northgate) and experimenting with a revolving bar in Hawaii, focused on a flying saucer-shaped top house. Graham’s team worked on sketches and ideas before a final design was reached just a year and a half before the World’s Fair. Architect Victor Steinbrueck came up with the wasp-waisted tower shape based on an abstract sculpture of a dancer called “The Feminine One.”

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The Space Needle at the World’s Fair

With time an issue, the construction team worked around the clock. The domed top, housing the top five levels (including the restaurants and observation deck), was perfectly balanced so that the restaurant could rotate with the help of one tiny electric motor, originally 0.8 kilowatts (1.1 hp), later replaced with a 1.1 kilowatts (1.5 hp) motor. With paint colors named Orbital Olive for the body, Astronaut White for the legs, Re-entry Red for the saucer, and Galaxy Gold for the roof, the Space Needle was finished in less than one year. It was completed in April 1962 at a cost of $4.5 million. The last elevator car was installed the day before the Fair opened on April 21.

Since the World’s Fair the Space Needle has appeared in several popular media forms and undergone many changes. In 1974, author Stephen Cosgrove’s children’s book Wheedle on the Needle imagined a furry creature called a Wheedle who lived on top of the Space Needle and caused its light to flash. Its closing quatrain is: There’s a Wheedle on the Needle / I know just what you’re thinking / But if you look up late at night / You’ll see his red nose blinking. The Wheedle has since become a fixture of Seattle. It even became the mascot of the Seattle SuperSonics National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, who played in nearby KeyArena.

In 1982, the SkyLine level was added at the height of 100 ft (30 m). While this level had been part of the original plans for the Space Needle, it was not built until this time. Today, the SkyLine Banquet Facility can accommodate groups of 20–360 people. Renovations were completed in 2000 at a cost ($21 million) approximately the same in inflated dollars as the original construction price. Renovations between 1999 and 2000 included the SkyCity restaurant, SpaceBase retail store, Skybeam installation, Observation Deck overhaul, lighting additions and repainting.

Every year on New Year’s Eve, the Space Needle celebrates with a fireworks show at midnight that is synchronized to music. The fireworks artist Alberto Navarro from Bellevue, designed the show for 20 years, since its inception in 1994.

As part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Needle was painted “Galaxy Gold” in April 2012, the same color used when the needle was originally constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair. This temporary makeover, intended to last through the summer, is not the Needle’s first: it had the University of Washington (UW) Huskies football team logo painted after the team won the 1992 Rose Bowl, appeared as a giant “Wheel of Fortune” in 1995, was painted crimson after Washington State won the Apple Cup, and has been seen in Seattle SuperSonics colors.

Most recently, a renovation of the top of the Space Needle began in the summer of 2017,

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The Space Needle during the 2017-2018 renovation

to add an all-glass floor to the restaurant, and replace the observation platform windows with unbroken floor-to-ceiling glass panels unobstructed by mullions to more closely match the 1962 original concept sketches, as well as upgrades and updates to the internal systems. Called the Century Project, the work was finished in June of 2018, at a cost of $100 million in private funds. The rotating restaurant’s motor has been replaced, the elevator capacity has been increased by adding elevators, or double-stacking them, and the energy efficiency of the building has been improved with the aim of achieving LEED Silver Certification.

The Space Needle has always been a source of pride for locals, the architecture is iconic to the Seattle skyline. The Space Needle served to give the city recognition and notoriety when it first debuted at the World’s Fair. If you ever get the chance to visit, seeing the Space Needle is an incredible experience.

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