The Space Needle is an observation tower in Seattle, Washington, a landmark of the Pacific Northwest, and an icon of Seattle. 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 605ft high, 138ft wide, and weighs 9,550ST. It is built to withstand winds of up to 200mph 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 520ft and the rotating SkyCity restaurant at 500ft. 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 10mph. The trip takes 41 seconds. On windy days, the elevators slow to 5mph. On April 19, 1999, the city's Landmarks Preservation Board designated it a historic landmark.
In September 2017, the restaurant was temporarily closed as part of a US$100 million renovation, currently scheduled for completion in June 2018. The renovation includes the installation of a new rotation motor and see-through glass floors in the restaurant, as well as the replacement of the observation deck's wire enclosure with glass panels. The observation deck will remain open for the duration of the project.
The top of the Space Needle (2007).
The architecture of the Space Needle is the result of a compromise between the designs of two men, Edward E. Carlson and John Graham, Jr. The two leading ideas for the World Fair involved businessman Edward E. Carlson's sketch of a giant balloon tethered to the ground and architect John Graham's concept of a flying saucer (see the halo that houses the restaurant and observation deck). Victor Steinbrueck introduced the hourglass profile of the tower. The Space Needle was built to withstand wind speeds of 200 mph (322 km/h), double the requirements in the building code of 1962. The 6.8 Nisqually earthquake jolted the Needle enough in 2001 for water to slosh out of the toilets in the restrooms. The Space Needle will not sustain serious structural damage during earthquakes of magnitudes below 9.1. Also made to withstand Category 5 hurricane-force winds, the Space Needle sways only 1 inch per 10 mph (16 mm per 10 km/h) of wind speed.
For decades, the hovering disk of the Space Needle was home to two restaurants 500ft above the ground: the Space Needle Restaurant, which was originally named Eye of the Needle, and Emerald Suite. These were closed in 2000 to make way for SkyCity, a larger restaurant that features Pacific Northwest cuisine. It rotates 360 degrees in exactly forty-seven minutes. In 1993, the elevators were replaced with new computerized versions. The new elevators descend at a rate of 10mph.
On December 31, 1999, a powerful beam of light was unveiled for the first time. Called the Legacy Light or Skybeam, it is powered by lamps that total 85 million candela shining skyward from the top of the Space Needle to honor national holidays and special occasions in Seattle. The concept of this beam was derived from the official 1962 World's Fair poster, which depicted such a light source although none was incorporated into the original design. It is somewhat controversial because of the light pollution it creates. Originally planned to be turned on 75 nights per year, it has generally been used fewer than a dozen times per year. It did remain lit for eleven days in a row from September 11, 2001, to September 22, 2001, in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
A 1962 Seattle World's Fair poster showed a grand spiral entryway leading to the elevator that was ultimately omitted from final building plans. The stairway was eventually added as part of the Pavilion and Spacebase remodel in June 2000. The main stairwell has 848 steps from the basement to the top of the observation deck.
At approximately 605ft, the Space Needle was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River at the time it was built by Howard S. Wright Construction Co., but is now dwarfed by other structures along the Seattle skyline, among them the Columbia Center, at 967ft. Unlike many other similar structures, such as the CN Tower in Toronto, the Space Needle is not used for broadcasting purposes.
Edward F. Carlson, chairman of the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, had an idea for erecting a tower with a restaurant at the World's Fair. Carlson was president of a hotel company and was not recognized in art or design, but he was inspired by a recent visit to the Stuttgart Tower of Germany. John Graham, an architect who had won praise for designing the Northgate Mall in Seattle, soon became involved. Graham's first move was to alter the restaurant featured in the plans to a revolving restaurant, in the same manner as a tower (La Ronde) he had previously designed for the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Hawaii.
The proposed Space Needle had no pre-selected site. Since it was not financed by the city, land had to be purchased within the fairgrounds. The investors had been unable to find suitable land and the search for a site was nearly dead when, in 1961, they discovered a plot, 120by, containing switching equipment for the fire and police alarm systems. The land sold for $75,000. At this point, only one year remained before the World's Fair would begin. The Needle was privately financed and built by the Pentagram Corporation, consisting of Bagley Wright, contractor Howard S. Wright, architect John Graham, Ned Skinner, and Norton Clapp. In 1977 Bagley, Skinner and Clapp sold their interest to Howard Wright who now controls it under the name of Space Needle Corporation.
The earthquake stability of the Space Needle was ensured when a hole was dug 30ft deep and 120ft across, and 467 concrete trucks took one full day to fill it. The foundation weighs 5850 tons (including 250 tons of reinforcing steel), the same as the above-ground structure. The structure is bolted to the foundation with 72 bolts, each one 30ft long.
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 0.8kW, later replaced with a 1.1kW 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. During the course of the Fair nearly 20,000 people a day rode the elevators to the Observation Deck. The 20,000 mark was never reached, missed by fewer than 50 people one day. At the time of construction, it was the tallest building in the West, taking the title from the Smith Tower across town that had held that title since 1914.
The revolving restaurant was operated by Western International Hotels, of which Carlson was President, under a 20-year contract from April 1, 1962 to April 1, 1982.
An imitation carillon was installed in the Space Needle, and played several times a day during the World's Fair. The instrument, built by the Schulmerich Bells Company of Hatfield, Pennsylvania under the name "Carillon Americana," recreated the sounds of 538 bells and was the largest in the world, until eclipsed by a 732 bell instrument at the 1964 New York World's Fair. The operator's console was located in the base of the Space Needle, completely enclosed in glass to allow observation of the musician playing the instrument. It was also capable of being played from a roll, just as a player piano would be. The forty-four stentors (speakers) of the carillon were located underneath the Needle's disc at the 200 foot level, and were audible over the entire fairgrounds and up to ten miles away. The carillon was disassembled after the fair's close.
The carillon bells were featured on an LP record called "Bells On Hi-Fi" (catalog number AR-8, produced by Americana Records, of Sellersville, Pennsylvania). There are 12 pieces recorded on the "Carillon Americana" before it was installed in the Space Needle, performed by noted carilloneur John Klein (1915-1981).
After the Fair
Scaffold surrounding top section during 2017 renovation
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 (originally known as the Seattle Center Coliseum). The SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City on July 3, 2008.
In 1982, the SkyLine level was added at the height of 100ft. 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. In 2000, public celebrations were canceled because of perceived terror threats against the structure after investigations into the foiled millennium bombing plots, but the fireworks show was still performed.
On May 19, 2007, the Space Needle welcomed its 45 millionth visitor, Greg Novoa of San Francisco. He received a free trip for two to Paris, which included a VIP dinner at the Eiffel Tower.
In May 2008, the Space Needle received its first professional cleaning since the opening of the 1962 World's Fair. The monument was pressure washed by Kärcher with water at a pressure of 2900psi and a temperature of 194F. No detergents were used in consideration of the Seattle Center and the EMP building.
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.
A renovation of the top of the Space Needle began in the summer of 2017, 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 is scheduled to finish by June 2018, at a cost of $100 million in private funds. The rotating restaurant's motor will be replaced, the elevator capacity will be increased by adding elevators, or double-stacking them, and the energy efficiency of the building will be improved with the aim of achieving LEED Silver Certification. The temporary scaffold's 28000lb, 44650sqft platform under the top structure was assembled on the ground, and then lifted by cables from the ground to the underside of the structure, controlled by 12 operators standing on the platform as it was raised. The platform is the largest in circumference ever made by Safway Services, a company specializing in unique construction scaffolding.
Six parachutists have leaped from the tower since its opening, in a sport known as BASE jumping. This activity is only legal with prior consent. Four of them were part of an authorized promotion in 1996, and the other two were arrested.
Paul D. Baker was the first person to jump from the Space Needle in a successful suicide attempt on March 4, 1974.
Mary Lucille Wolf purchased a ticket for the elevator to the observation deck on May 25, 1974 where she proceeded to scale the glass fence surrounding the deck onto the edge and jumped off in what the Seattle Police Department called "an obvious suicide". Police found a correspondence in Wolf's purse that was from a friend extending their condolences regarding the recent death of Wolf's husband.
Following the two suicides in 1974, a netting and additional fencing were installed on the observation deck. However, another suicide occurred on July 5, 1978 when an unidentified "young woman" as described in a United Press International report climbed over the suicide-prevention netting and leaped to her death on the northeast side of the structure.
As a symbol of the Pacific Northwest, the Space Needle has made numerous appearances in films, TV shows and other works of fiction. Examples of films include It Happened at the World's Fair where it was used as a filming location, and Sleepless in Seattle (1993). In the 1974 film The Parallax View, the inside and outside platforms of the observation deck are the setting for a political assassination, and there's a brief chase on the roof above it. In the 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, it served as a base of operations for the villain Doctor Evil with the word Starbucks written across its saucer after his henchman Number 2 shifted the organization's resources toward the coffee company. It is also featured prominently in Chronicle (2012), and is a key element in the film's climax. On April 1, 2015, public radio station KPLU 88.5 FM reported in the news story "Proposed Development To 'Assimilate' Seattle's Landmark Space Needle?" that a permit application (Notice of Proposed Land Use Action) had been submitted "to construct a 666 unit cube to assimilate" the landmark. The story is an April Fools' Day practical joke.
In the TV series Frasier an outline of it appears in the opening credits and the base is visible from the high-rise condo, although that view is an artificial composite image, as there are no high rise condos in the area depicted, of that height.
Other TV appearances include The History Channel's Life After People, in which it collapses after 200 years because of corrosion. It was also destroyed in the TV miniseries 10.5 when a 7.9 earthquake hits Seattle. The movie mistakenly portrays the Needle as crumbling concrete, though the structure is actually made of iron and designed to withstand up to a 9.0 earthquake. The needle is also featured in some episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy, such as the episode "Storms" where Bill Nye uses the lightning rod on top of it as an example of conducting lightning strikes. Max Guevara, the main character from the series Dark Angel which is set in a post-apocalyptic Seattle, is often seen on the roof of the derelict Space Needle.
The Space Needle has been used for some other purposes as well, including a 57 piece Lego construction set of it that has been released as part of Lego Architecture's structures.