Seattle’s iconic Smith Tower celebrates 100 years on July 4, 2014. The Smith Tower, originally named the L.C. Smith Building, was Seattle’s first skyscraper, and was, at the time it was built, the world’s fourth tallest building. It was the tallest building west of Chicago for 50 years and remained the tallest structure in Seattle until its more famous counterpart, The Space Needle, was constructed in 1962 for the World’s Fair.
The structure is a testament to the daring moxie the men of early Seattle possessed. One hundred years is the bulk of Seattle’s young history, and during that time, the Smith tower—like Mt. Rainier, which stands behind it—has kept watch over the city like a guardian, and has endured with silent strength.
The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed 25 city blocks, and the architects on the Smith Tower were determined that a recurrence of such a tragedy would not destroy the building. Its frame consists of 7,970,000 pounds of steel encased in concrete, its exterior is granite and terra cotta, interior walls are brick covered in plaster with marble wainscoting, and doors are steel—painted to look like wood. Even the window frames are bronze.
A rarity in today’s modern world, most of the tower’s original features and details are intact. Although the building has been modernized, it was not remolded to loose its charm and character, and is still being used for its original purpose as an office building, unlike many other downtown historical gems that have been developed into bland major-chain hotels, losing much of their original allure.
The attraction to the Smith Tower, that draws visitors from the world over, is the panoramic view from the observation deck on the 35th floor. From the Olympic Mountains to the Cascades, one can see gorgeous views of the Puget Sound region and the City of Seattle, including the Great Wheel, Elliott Bay, SODO, and even the Space Needle, peeking through the more modern skyscrapers of the downtown core.
The observation deck is accessed through the Chinese room, which features an intricately carved teak ceiling. The furnishings were a gift from the last Empress of China and include a 300-year-old chair, know as the wishing chair. It is said that if a single woman sits in the chair and earnestly wishes for a husband—making no specific stipulations—she will have a marriage within a year.
In addition to the breathtaking views, visitors are awed by the ride to the top of the tower in one of the seven original Otis elevators, adorned in brass and copper and hand operated by a human, as has been the case for 100 years.
Unlike other historic buildings that have automated and replaced their beautiful hand-operated elevators for cost and convenience, the Smith Tower preserves a time when people chatted with each other instead of having their faces turned down toward a device: A time when human contact and customer service were valued above speed and technology: A time that moved a little slower and lives were richer for it.
The Smith Tower is located at 506 Second Avenue in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood. For more information visit www.smithtower.com.