Seattle Space Needle

Added by Lauren Kay Perez, last update: August 17, 2012, 2:03 pm

Seattle Space Needle
The Seattle Space Needle, source:, date: February 22, 2007
400 Broad Street
Seattle, WA 98109
United States
47° 37' 12.4932" N, 122° 20' 54.2616" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Monuments (MON)
Secondary classification: Commercial (COM)
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):

Designated a City of Seattle Landmark on April 19, 1999

History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

The Space Needle was built as a focal point for the Century 21 Exposition, at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. During the Fair, approximately 20,000 people a day visited the top of the Needle-a total of 2.3 million visitors during the Fair. The top of the needle is an Aircraft Warning Beacon. The Observation Deck is located at 520 feet above the ground and the Revolving SkyCity Restaurant is at 500 feet. The Space Needle was once the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and the second revolving restaurant in the world.

Dates: Commission / Completion:The Space Needle was commissioned for the Century 21 Exposition at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. Construction lasted from 1961 to 1962. In 1959 Edward E. Carlson, then president of Western International Hotels, began sketches for the Space Needle on a place mat.
Architectural and other Designer(s): Design: Edward E. Carlson, Earle Duff, John Ridley, Nate Wilkinson Architects: John Graham & Company, Victor Steinbrueck Contractor: Howard S. Wright Engineering: John K. Minasian, Al Miller
Others associated with Building/Site: Financiers: Bagley Wright, Ned Skinner, Norton Clapp First Space Needle Manager: Hoge Sullivan
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): 1982: Skyline Banquet Facility built at the 100 foot level 1993: Computerized elevators installed 2000: $20 million revitalization, including construction of the Pavilion Level, SpaceBase retail store, SkyCity restaurant, Observation Deck overhaul, exterior lighting additions, Legacy Light installations, exterior painting
Current Use: Current Owner: Space Needle Corporation The Space Needle is used as an observation deck, restaurant, store, and location for the Annual New Year's Eve Celebration.
Current Condition: The Seattle Center, including the Space Needle is in use and very well maintained. With more than one million tourists a year, the Needle is the number one tourist attraction in the Northwest.
General Description:

Based on the Stuttgart Tower, in Germany, the Space Needle was architecturally daring at the time it was built and is representative of post WWII Googie modern architecture, which drew its inspiration from Space Age technological imagery.
From the ground level to the top of the needle, the steel tower is 605 feet tall. The Observation Deck is at 520 feet, the Revolving SkyCity Restaurant is at 500 feet, the SkyLine Banquet Facility is at 100 feet, and the Pavilion entrance and SpaceBase Retail Shop are on the ground level. There are 848 steps from the bottom of the basement to the top of the Observation Deck. The Space Needle has always been topped with a light, the current version is the Legacy Light, created for New Year's Eve 1999/2000. On top of the slender tripod design, the observation deck and revolving restaurant turn 360 degrees every hour. The Space Needle was the first Seattle Landmark to be designated under all six designation criteria, ranging from architectural merit to historical and physical prominence.

Construction Period:


Original Physical Context:

The tower is part of the 74-acre Seattle Center, a park and arts and entertainment center also created for the 1962 World's Fair. The Seattle Center remains today as the site of many attractions that focus on scientific and technological innovation. Besides the Needle, the center includes the International Fountain, the Center House (Seattle Landmark), the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, the Fisher Pavilion,the Kobe Bell (Seattle Landmark), the Mercer Arena, the Mural Amphitheater, the Northwest Rooms conference center, the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Center Pavilion, and the Seattle Center Skate Park.
At one time it was the tallest structure in the city-86 feet taller than the Smith Tower-and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. The Space Needle was built on a 120' x 120' lot formerly owned by the city of Seattle, but sold to investors for $75,00,0 in 1961.

Technical Evaluation:

A triumph of design, engineering, and construction the Space Needle was designed and completed in 400 days, just in time for the opening of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

The bottom of its foundation is 30 feet below ground level and 120 feet wide. During construction, it took 467 cement trucks less than 12 hours to fill the foundation hole--the largest continuous concrete pour attempted in the West. The foundation weighs 5,850 tons and includes 250 tons of reinforcing steel. The entire structure weighs 3,700 tons, its center of gravity is 5 feet above the ground. The Needle is attached to the foundation by 72 bolts, each 30-feet-long. It sways approximately 1 inch for every 10 mph of wind and was built to withstand a wind velocity of 200 miles per hour, doubling the 1962 building code requirements. In winds 35 mph or higher, the elevators are designed to slow down 5 mph for safety reasons. On a hot days, the Space Needle expands about one inch. To protect against lightning, the Needle has 25 lightning rods.

The diameter of the halo is 138 feet. The diameter of the SkyCity Restaurant is 94.5 feet and entire saucer does not rotate, only a 14-foot ring next to the windows on the restaurant level. The restaurant revolves on a track and wheel system that weighs almost 125 tons-the design came from railroad technology. The turntable is powered by a 1½ horsepower motor (originally a 1 hp motor).

The Space Needle's elevators weigh 14,000 pounds, each with a capacity of 4,500 pounds. Each elevator carries 25 people and has seven cables. The elevators were designed with a brake that would lock the elevator on the tracks if all seven cables broke. Two of the elevators are high speed and can travel at 10 mph, or 800 feet per minute. Travel time from the ground level to the top is 43 seconds. The last elevator was installed a day before the opening of the World's Fair. In 1993, all of the elevators were replaced for $1.5 million.

The Legacy Light has lamps that total 85 million candle power. The light shines to honor national holidays and special occasions in Seattle.


The Space Needle is an important aspect of Washington's pop culture.

In 1966, 11-year-old Bill Gates won a dinner at the Space Needle restaurant for memorizing and reciting all of chapters 5, 6 and 7 of the Gospel of Matthew.

The Committee Hoping for Extra-Terrestrial Encounters to Save the Earth (CHEESE) claims to have plans from the 1962 World's Fair that prove the Space Needle was constructed to communicate with aliens.

Six parachuters have jumped from the Needle-two of them were unauthorized.

One April Fool's day, a television station aired a fake report that the Space Needle had fallen over. Emergency phone lines were flooded with calls. The Space Needle received more than 700 calls, despite a flashing alert during the entire report telling the audience that it was a joke. A man from Spokane even began driving to Seattle because his daughter worked at the Space Needle.

In May 1996, the Space Needle welcomed the Olympic Torch Relay as it passed through Seattle on its way to Atlanta.

The Space Needle also supports Seattle's sports teams by painting its roof with logos and messages. These paintings have included the logos of the University of Washington Huskies football team, the Seattle Mariners, and the Seattle Supersonics. In 1995, the Needle placed an over-sized inflatable baseball on the the Observation Deck to celebrate the Mariners first playoff appearance.

In 1988 Tim Firnstahl and Mick McHugh divided up their $16 million Seattle restaurant empire with a coin toss from the Space Needle.

During a Miss USA Pageant, Miss Washington, Stina McLynne, wore a Space Needle-shaped hat.

More than 200 souvenir items from the World's Fair become collectibles.


2009-SkyCity Restaurant named Restaurant of the Year by the Washington Wine Commission.

2006 & 2007-AOL Cityguide dubs SkyCity restaurant the “Best Restaurant with a View." The restaurant was also awarded “Best View” by Where Magazine’s Visitors Choice Dining Awards

The Space Needle has been recognized as the “Best Place to Get Engaged” by the Seattle Weekly.

The SpaceBase gift shop was voted one of the best places to shop for Northwest souvenirs by Seattle Magazine.

Seattle Magazine readers voted the Space Needle the “Best Place to Have a Party” in its 2004 “The Best” issue.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
Architect John Graham, of John Graham and Co., produced the saucer design of the Needle. He was also the designer of the first US shopping mall,the Northgate Mall in Seattle. In their designs, he and others who created exhibits for the World's Fair where inspired by futuristic Space Age technology. The Space Needle’s original paint scheme, included “Orbital Olive,” “Re-entry Red,” and “Galaxy Gold.” The original restaurant was called “The Eye of the Needle.” The science fiction motif of the tower and the fair, for which it was constructed, were rather male oriented. Under the assumption that women would not be interested in science and space, exhibits targeting women dealt mostly with household issues. In 1963, the year after its construction, Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, sparked the feminist movement and ushered in an era of changes in civil rights and cultural attitudes. This historical juncture made the Space Needle the object of criticism as a phallic symbol. Today, many interpret the Space Needle as a symbol of Washington's place in the Jet Age and as the home of Boeing.

The $4.5 million dollars it took to fund the building of the Space Needle was provided by the "Pentagram Corporation" comprised of financier Bagley Wright, contractor Howard S. Wright, architect John Graham, financier Ned Skinner, and timber magnate Norton Clapp. In 1977, Bagley Wright, Skinner and Clapp sold their interests to Howard S. Wright. The Pentagram Corporation is now called the Space Needle Corporation.

General Assessment:
Built as a monument to America's optimistic sense of leadership in the Space Age, the Seattle Space Needle is, culturally, historically, technologically, and architecturally, a prime example of American modernism. Its condition is well-maintained and it continues to be frequently visited.
Text references:

The Space Needle Official website-
History Link-;;;
The Seattle Times,"Space Needle Will Be City's Youngest Historic Landmark -- A High Point In Seattle History"-
Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest-

Recorder/Date: Lauren Perez/(323) 637-9909/ University Historic Preservation/February 3, 2011
P.O. Box 230977
New York, NY 10023
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