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The History of Seattle’s Iconic Space Needle

March 27, 2023 By CityPASS

The Space Needle is an iconic Seattle landmark that towers over the city. At the time of its construction, it was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. The observation tower offers breathtaking views of the city, the Cascade Mountains, Elliott Bay, and other islands. You may know what the building looks like, but do you know about the Space Needle's history?

Let's jump right into some facts about the Space Needle's history to see how this iconic landmark came to be.

A Closer Look at Seattle's Most Historic Landmark

Do you know that the Space Needle was constructed to withstand winds up to 200 miles per hour? The observation tower is located in the Lower Queen Anne area. Sitting on the Seattle Center grounds, the building symbolizes the Northwest and is one of the most photographed towers.

The Space Needle's height is a whopping 605 feet. The view of the Seattle skyline from this observation tower is one of a kind. Visitors can ride the elevators all the way to the top of the Space Needle.

An Important Structure and Symbol for the 1962 World's Fair

The Space Needle was the brilliant idea of like-minded people. Edward E. Carlson and John Graham, Jr. designed the iconic landmark for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. The fair's theme that year was "The Age of Space." The design was a combination of a flying UFO and a tethered balloon.

The idea behind the tower was to represent the space race, which was extremely prominent in the culture at that time. The inspiration for the observation tower came from a building in Germany that Carlson had visited before.

A plot of land where an old firehouse was located was then sold to investors for $75,000 in 1961, and in December of that year, the structure was completed. The structure was built under the ground and designed to withstand earthquakes and high-powered winds. It was developed quickly, only taking eight months to finish.

An underground foundation full of cement took an entire day to establish, giving the tower the title of the largest continuous concrete pour in the West. The idea behind all the concrete foundations was to allow the building to survive an earthquake. The colors painted onto the Space Needle were space-themed colors such as "Orbital Olive" and "Galaxy Gold."

On April 21, 1962, for the opening day of the World's Fair, the Space Needle had its official opening, with an estimated 2.6 million people visiting to catch a glimpse.

Completion of the Restaurant and Observation Deck

The Space Needle debuted Legacy Lights, a beam of light, in 1999. The bright light shines up from the tower to honor national holidays. Later in April, the Space Needle was given an official city of Seattle landmark title.

In 2000, the tower underwent a $20 million renovation. The plans included a space needle restaurant called SkyCity, a Space Base retail store, a pavilion, an observation deck, and other aesthetic upgrades. Two original restaurants closed when the new renovations began.

The Carillon Installation

The carillon was installed before the fair and played a recording of musical bells throughout the entirety of the Seattle World’s Fair. At the time, the "Carillon Americana" was the biggest of its kind in the world. The bell instrument was at the bottom of the needle, with glass around it so people could look in and watch it play. Forty-four speakers produced sounds and people could hear the music from miles away. The carillon was removed after the fair.

The 100-Foot Skyline Level Is Constructed.

In 1982, the Space Needle got a 100-foot skyline. This area was used for weddings, meetings, and other business needs. The skyline was part of the original building design plan, but it was built later. Today, it's a romantic wedding location or a venue for other special occasions.

A Complete Revitalization

In 2017, the Space Needle began its most extensive renovation project to date. It was known as "The Century Project." The goal was to take the Space Needle back to its original sketches and show off the tower's internal structure. For example, an all-glass floor was added to the restaurant. In addition, the observation deck has floor-to-ceiling glass walls and benches.

The Loupe was also added—a revolving deck where you can sip cocktails and enjoy delicacies while slowly spinning around the tower. The deck makes a complete orbit around the tower in about 45 minutes. It is the world's first rotating glass deck. Two sets of stairs were also added, known as the Oculus Stairs, that connect the two levels. An accessibility elevator was also installed. The Wright family owns the Space Needle and invested over $100 million to upgrade the tower.

Other Events and Contests

There have been several contests at the Space Needle. According to the Seattle Times, for the 60th anniversary, the owners held a contest for Washington residents who shared their life experiences and memories of their favorite moments at the Space Needle. The top five winners got to help paint the roof and share their stories with the world.

If you visit Seattle on New Year's Eve, you can catch the fireworks display at the Space Needle. The show is one of the biggest fireworks displays around. The engineer named Alberto Navarro designs what he considers to be "art in the sky," and the display can be viewed worldwide on video.

Check Out Seattle's Iconic Landmarks and Everything in Between

Next time you are in Seattle, why not go on a cultural trip, immerse yourself in Washington's top attractions, and visit the iconic Space Needle? With a Seattle CityPASS® ticket, you can see the Space Needle, watch the aquatic wildlife at the Seattle Aquarium, and submerge yourself into the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). In addition, you can save off retail ticket prices when you bundle with CityPASS® tickets.

Seattle Lodging

To get the most out of your stay in Seattle, we recommend finding lodging near Seattle's top attractions. Use this map to find the right lodging for you:

Header image Courtesy of Space Needle

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