Traveling with Postcards: Seattle

St. James Cathedral

St. James Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral church located at 804 Ninth Avenue in the First Hill neighborhood of Seattle. The need for a cathedral in Seattle arose in 1903, when Edward O’Dea, bishop of what was then known as the Diocese of Nesqually, elected to move the Episcopal see from Vancouver, Washington to Seattle. Construction began in 1905 and was completed in 1907.

Major artwork at St. James Cathedral include an extensive collection of stained glass by Charles Connick, installed in 1917-1920, during the rebuilding of the cathedral following the collapse of the dome. In 1999, ceremonial bronze doors were added, the work of German sculptor Ulrich Henn. A bronze tabernacle by the same artist was installed in 2003. St. James Cathedral is also home to an altarpiece by Florentine artist Neri di Bicci, dating to 1456. It represents the Madonna and Child surrounded by six saints.

The cathedral’s original choir space in the west gallery features an organ built by the Boston firm of Hutchings-Votey (Opus 1623). This organ was installed and voiced by E. M. Skinner in 1907.

The Fairmont Olympic Hotel

The Fairmont Olympic Hotel, originally The Olympic Hotel, is a historic hotel in downtown Seattle. It was built on the original site of the University of Washington’s first campus. The hotel opened in 1924, and in 1979, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

After World War I, Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce appointed a committee to work toward the goal of bringing a world-class hotel to the city. The committee identified an undeveloped portion of the city’s Metropolitan Tract, a downtown area covering four blocks, as an ideal location for a new hotel. The Seattle Times held a contest to name the hotel. From 3,906 entries, the committee chose The Olympic.

In 1922, once the lease had gone into effect, the Community Hotel Corporation chose New York architect George B. Post & Son to design the building; the local firm Bebb and Gould—a partnership between Charles Bebb and Carl Gould—were hired as the local supervising architects. Post created an Italian Renaissance design that was popular at the time, and this design remains one of the building’s hallmarks today. The Olympic Hotel’s grand opening took place on December 6, 1924, with a grand dinner and dance attended by more than 2,000 Seattle residents and their guests. Hundreds more people lined the streets just to catch a glimpse of the new hotel.

The L.C. Smith Building

Smith Tower is a skyscraper in Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington. Completed in 1914, the 38-story, 484 ft tower is the oldest skyscraper in the city, and was among the tallest skyscrapers outside New York City at the time of its completion. It remained the tallest building on the West Coast for nearly half a century until the Space Needle overtook it in 1962.

During a trip to Seattle in 1909, Smith planned to build a 14-story building in Seattle. His son, Burns Lyman Smith, convinced him to build instead a much taller skyscraper to steal the crown from rival city Tacoma’s National Realty Building as the tallest west of the Mississippi River. Construction began in 1911. Although Smith did not live to see it, the building was completed in 1914. L.C. Smith Tower opened to the public on July 4, 1914. Over 4,000 Seattleites rode to the 35th floor on opening day.

In recent years high-tech companies have been occupants of L.C. Smith Tower, which sports fiber-optic wiring. The burst of the dot-com bubble hurt Smith Tower by raising its vacancy rate to 26.1 percent, twice Seattle’s commercial vacancy rate, as of December 21, 2001. The Walt Disney Internet Group, for example, at the time reduced its seven floors to four. By 2007, the occupancy rate had rebounded to about 90 percent, with new occupants such as Microsoft Live Labs.

The building is one of the last on the West Coast to employ elevator operators. The Otis Elevator Company provided the elevators, which have brass surfaces. The doors are latticed, so a rider can see into each hallway and through the glass walls in front of each office.

Leschi Park

Leschi Park is an 18.5 acre park in the Leschi neighborhood of Seattle,  named after Chief Leschi of the Nisqually tribe. The majority of the park is a grassy hillside that lies west of Lakeside Avenue S. and features tennis courts, picnic tables, and a playground. Across Lakeside Avenue to the east is the western shore of Lake Washington and a small lawn with benches. To its south is the southern portion of Leschi Moorage, separated from the northern portion by a parking lot in the E. Yesler Way right-of-way, private docks, and an office/restaurant complex.

The cable car run from Pioneer Square that operated from September 27, 1888, to August 10, 1940, terminated here. As with Madison Park to the north, there was a cross-lake ferry run from Leschi Park to the Eastside before the construction of the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge. Seattle’s first zoo was located here, but moved to Woodland Park in 1903. Leschi Park borders Frink Park in its southwest corner.

The Duwamish called the area “Changes-Its-Face”, referring to an enormous and powerful supernatural horned snake that was said to live there.

Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition

The Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition was a world’s fair held in Seattle in 1909, publicizing the development of the Pacific Northwest. It was originally planned for 1907, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, but the organizers found out about the Jamestown Exposition being held that year, and rescheduled. The fairgrounds later became the campus of the University of Washington.

The gates opened at 8.30 AM on June 1, and crowds entered immediately. At 9.30 AM, attendees watched performances by military bands from the Army and the Navy. Many sat in the fair’s amphitheater, awaiting a signal scheduled to be given in Washington DC. At 3pm East Coast Time (12 noon in Seattle), in the East Room of the White House, President Taft sent the signal. He “opened… the Exposition… by touching a gold key, studded with gold nuggets taken from the first mine opened in the Klondike region.” The telegraphic spark that Taft sent was received by telegraphers at the fairgrounds; as soon as it arrived, a gong was struck five times, a large American flag was unfurled, and there was a twenty-one gun salute, while other demonstrations of pageantry announced the official opening of the fair.

Opening Day, June 1, was declared a city holiday, and 80,000 people attended.  Attendance was even higher—117,013—on “Seattle Day”. Other big draws were days dedicated to various ethnic groups, fraternal organizations, and U.S. states. By the time the fair closed on October 16, over 3,700,000 had visited.


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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

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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.

The 1909 Seattle Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

See the amazing, fantastic Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition through vintage postcards!

The Pacific Northwest has its own reasons to show off, and the 1909 Seattle Exposition gave the perfect opportunity. It’s mouthful of a name, so Alaska-Yukon-Pacific is often simply shortened to A-Y-P.

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The Secretary of the Arctic Brotherhood, Godfrey Chealander, pitched the idea for an Alaska exhibit in Seattle. Soon, the idea escalated into an exhibition pitch, piggy-backing off of the recent Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon.

In 1905, Seattle’s University of Washington had only three buildings surrounded by forest. Planners proposed to build the exposition on the campus, which would also do the university a favor.

Unlike many other world expositions, everything was ready by the fair’s June opening, with minimal scrambling to finish things at the last minute.

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Japanese and Canadian buildings supported the fair’s Pacific theme, and local buildings or symbols, like a model of a Washington state coal mine, stood as representations of the Northwest.

On “Seattle Day”, the fair had its highest attendance rate. Some called the exposition the “World’s Most Beautiful Fair.”

The fair was largely successful, but did have one major controversy. “Human Exhibits” were more popular back then, but the A-Y-P really took the cake: the fair set up a month-old orphan boy named Ernest as a raffle prize. However, no one came to claim him, and no records show what happened to him.

In the end, the A-Y-P was a big success. It didn’t even need financial assistance from the government, thanks to clever marketing and publicity.

Looking for vintage World Fair postcards? Look no further.

Traveling with Art: Mount Rainier, Washington

Mount Rainier is a familiar Pacific Northwest landmark not too far from Seattle, Washington that is potentially one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, just waiting to erupt.

We’ve written about a volcano before – the legendary Mount Vesuvius – but for the Washington state readers, here’s one that hits a little closer to home.

The painting you see above is by E. R. Barchus, a true-to-life landscape with beautiful muted, natural colors.

The painting may display a serene facade of the mountain, but underneath the tranquil beauty is a volcano just waiting to erupt.

The main summit, Columbia Crest, is at the center. (via Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons)

The main summit, Columbia Crest, is at the center. (via Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons)

Mount Rainier is the fifth highest mountain in the United States, and the highest mountain in Washington state.

Mount Rainier’s most recent recorded eruption was in 1854. It has been listed as a “Decade Volcano” (as has Mount Vesuvius), meaning that it’s one of the 16 volcanoes most likely to cause great loss of life.

Experts say that if Mount Rainier erupted as powerfully as Mount St. Helens did in 1980, it would have a worse effect because of its large amounts of glacial ice and the more heavily populated areas surrounding it.

Mount Rainier over Tacoma, Washington.

Mount Rainier over Tacoma, Washington.

But Mount Rainier is not just a potential death threat waiting in the background. It’s also a mountain enjoyed by hikers and nature-lovers, as well as a well-known landmark in the Western region of Washington. Thousands of people attempt the climb every year, with about half being successful.

President William McKinley created Mount Rainier National Park in 1899, the fifth established national park at the time. Congress wanted to preserve the area for its natural beauty and “…for the preservation from injury or spoliation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park.”

Despite being considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, Rainier has shown no recent signs of awakening.

And it’s a beautiful mountain, to be sure.