Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Tallest Building West of the Mississippi Seattle's Smith Tower

You are looking at an old postcard of old Seattle. The Smith Tower is on the right. Since the Smith Tower was completed in 1914 this would seem to indicate the old postcard was made after 1914.

The Smith Tower is located in Seattle's Pioneer Square. The Smith Tower was the first skyscraper in Seattle. It has 38 floors and at the top of its pyramid it is 462 feet tall, with a spire on top of the pyramid reaching a height of 489 feet.

The Smith Tower was built by a Seattle Bill Gates of his day, Lyman Cornelius Smith, who made his fortune making typewriters, firearms and building buildings.

In 1909 Mr. Smith wanted to build a short 14 story building. But his son, Burns, talked him into building a skyscraper to take the tall building crown away from Tacoma's National Real Estate Building, which was then the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

And so, in 1914, the Smith Tower became the tallest building west of the Mississippi, until 1931, when the Kansas City Power & Light Building took the tallest building west of the Mississippi title.

But, the Smith Tower remained the tallest structure in Seattle for another 48 years, when the Space Needle rose over 605 feet, in 1962. If I remember right, the Seafirst Bank Tower soon replaced the Space Needle as the tallest building in Seattle, and, due to its shape, became known as the box the Space Needle came in. In the decades following 1962 the Seattle skyline filled in with many more skyscrapers, dwarfing the Smith Tower.

You can see the pyramid top of the Smith Tower at the right side of the photo. Due to the point of view from which the photo is taken, looking south from a point north of the Space Needle, it makes the Space Needle appear taller than all the other buildings. In reality, this is not true.

Ivar Haglund, he being a well known Seattle seafood restaurateur, bought the Smith Tower in 1976 for a measly $1.8 million. It has changed hands a few times since then. High tech businesses took up much of the Smith Tower. And then started leaving with the bust. Currently the plan is to turn the Smith Tower into condos.

The Smith Tower has what is now a very rare thing. Live elevator operators operating the classic Otis Elevator, with doors that you can see through as you go up and down past the Smith Tower's floors.

On the 35th floor there is a wraparound observation deck open to the public. I remember taking the Smith Tower elevator to the observation deck, but that was a long time ago and the memory is very faded.

I don't remember the Chinese Room, which is also on the 35th floor. The Chinese Room has gifts from the Empress of China, like the Wishing Chair which causes a woman to get married within a year if she sits in it. Apparently this worked for Lyman's Smith's daughter.

1 comment:

Steve A said...

My big memory of the 35th floor was the bars to keep people from jumping. That didn't seem like a very smart thing to do in any event to me at the time.

Some interesting facts about the tower are at: