Space Needle

The Space Needle is an observation tower in Seattle, Washington, United States. It is a city landmark and is considered an icon of Seattle. It was built in the Seattle Center for the 1962 World's Fair, which drew over 2.3 million visitors. Nearly 20,000 people a day used its elevators during the event.[7]

Space Needle
The Space Needle flying the U.S. flag on Independence Day in 2011
Record height
Tallest in Seattle and Washington state from 1962 to 1969[I]
Preceded bySmith Tower
Surpassed bySafeco Plaza
General information
TypeObservation tower
Location400 Broad Street
Seattle, Washington
Coordinates47.6204°N 122.3491°W / 47.6204; -122.3491 (Space Needle)
Construction startedApril 17, 1961
CompletedDecember 8, 1961
OpeningApril 21, 1962
OwnerSpace Needle Corporation
Antenna spire184 m (604 ft)
Top floor158 m (518 ft)
Technical details
Floor count6
Design and construction
ArchitectJohn Graham & Company
Structural engineerJohn K. Minasian
Victor Steinbrueck
Main contractorHoward S. Wright Construction Co
DesignatedApril 19, 1999[1]

Once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River,[7] it is 605 ft (184 m) high, 138 ft (42 m) wide, and weighs 9,550 short tons (8,660 tonnes). It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) and earthquakes of up to 9.0 magnitude,[8] as strong as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. It also has 25 lightning rods.[9]

The Space Needle has an observation deck at 520 ft (160 m) and the rotating (currently closed) SkyCity restaurant at 500 ft (150 m).[7] 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.

Visitors can reach the top of the Space Needle by elevators that travel at 10 mph (16 km/h). The trip takes 41 seconds. On windy days, the elevators slow to 5 mph (8.0 km/h). On April 19, 1999, the city's Landmarks Preservation Board designated it a historic landmark.[7][10]

In September 2017, the tower's restaurant was closed as part of a $100 million renovation. The renovation included the installation of a new rotation motor and see-through glass floors in the restaurant space, as well as the replacement of the observation deck's wire enclosure with glass panels.[11][12] The space reopened in August 2018 as the Loupe, an indoor observation deck.[13]


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 (the gently sloping base) and architect John Graham's concept of a flying saucer (the halo that houses the restaurant and observation deck).[7] Victor Steinbrueck introduced the hourglass profile of the tower.[14] The Space Needle was built to withstand wind speeds of 200 mph (320 km/h), double the requirements in the building code of 1962. The 6.8 Mw 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 in (25 mm) per 10 mph (16 km/h) of wind speed.

For decades, the hovering disk of the Space Needle was home to 2 restaurants 500 ft (150 m) 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.[15] In 1993, the elevators were replaced with new computerized versions. The new elevators descend at a rate of 10 mph (16 km/h).

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.[16] 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.[17]

A 1962 Seattle World's Fair poster[18] showed a grand spiral entryway leading to the elevator that was ultimately omitted from final building plans.[19] 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.[7] At approximately 605 ft (184 m), 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 967 ft (295 m).[20] 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. Local architect John Graham soon became involved as a result of his success in designing Northgate Mall. Graham's first move was to alter the restaurant's original design to a revolving restaurant, similar to his previous design of the La Ronde tower restaurant at 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 lot, 120 by 120 ft (37 by 37 m), 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.[21]

The earthquake stability of the Space Needle was ensured when a hole was dug 30 ft (9.1 m) deep and 120 ft (37 m) 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 30 ft (9.1 m) 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 0.8 kilowatts (1.1 hp), later replaced with a 1.1 kilowatts (1.5 hp) 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. Upon completion, the Space Needle was the tallest building in the western United States, replacing the Smith Tower in downtown Seattle as the tallest building west of the Mississippi since 1914.

The revolving restaurant was operated by Western International Hotels, of which Carlson was President,[22] under a 20-year contract from April 1, 1962 to April 1, 1982.[23]


An imitation carillon[24] (using recordings of bells, rather than live bells) 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[25] 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, like a player piano. 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.[26] The carillon was disassembled after the fair's close.

The Carillon Americana was featured on a 12-track LP record called "Bells On High-Fi" (catalog number AR-8, produced by Americana Records, of Sellersville, Pennsylvania). These studio recordings were performed by noted carilloneur John Klein (1915-1981).[27][28]

After the Fair

A radio broadcast studio was built on the observation level of the Space Needle in 1963.[29] It was used for morning broadcasts by Radio KING and its sister TV station KING-TV from July 1963 to May 1966, and KIRO Radio from 1966 to 1974.[30] Disc jockey Bobby Wooten of country music station KAYO-AM lived in an apartment built adjacent to the Space Needle's broadcast studio for six months in 1974, which required a permit variance from the city government.[31][32]

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 100 ft (30 m). 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.[33]

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[34] with water at a pressure of 2,900 psi (20,000 kPa) and a temperature of 194 °F (90 °C). No detergents were used in consideration of the Seattle Center and the EMP building.[35]

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.[36] 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,[37] and has been seen in Seattle SuperSonics colors.[7]

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 floor-to-ceiling glass panels 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 was scheduled to finish by June 2018, at a cost of $100 million in private funds. The designer is Olson Kundig Architects and the general contractor is Hoffman Construction Company. 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 28,000-pound (13,000 kg), 44,650-square-foot (4,148 m2) platform under the top structure was assembled on the ground, and then lifted by cables 500 ft (150 m) from the ground to the underside of the structure, controlled by 12 operators standing on the platform as it was raised. The platform was made by Safway Services, a company specializing in unique construction scaffolding.[38][39][40][41]

Jumping incidents

Six parachutists have leaped from the tower since its opening, in a sport known as BASE jumping. This activity is only legal with prior authorization. Four of them were part of an authorized promotion in 1996,[42] and the other two were arrested.[43]

Paul D. Baker was the first person to jump from the Space Needle in a successful suicide attempt on March 4, 1974.[44] Mary Lucille Wolf also jumped from the tower that year, on May 25.[44] Following the two 1974 suicides, netting beneath and improved fencing around the observation deck were installed.[45] In spite of the barrier additions, however, another suicide by Dixie Reeder occurred on July 5, 1978.[46]

In culture

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 (1962), 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 a brief chase takes place 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.[47][48][49] It is also featured prominently in Chronicle (2012), and is a key element in the film's climax.

The Space Needle has been used in several practical jokes, especially those on April Fools' Day. In 1989, KING-TV's Almost Live! reported that the Space Needle has collapsed, causing panicked people to call emergency services and forcing the station to apologize afterwards;[50] the incident was compared to the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, which caused nationwide panic.[51][52] In 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.[53]

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.[54]

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.[55]

A 57-piece Lego model of the tower was released in 2010 as part of the Lego Architecture collection.[56][57]

See also


  1. "Landmarks and Designation". City of Seattle. Retrieved March 5, 2013.
  2. "Space Needle". CTBUH Skyscraper Center.
  3. Space Needle at Emporis
  4. Space Needle at Glass Steel and Stone (archived)
  5. "Space Needle". SkyscraperPage.
  6. Space Needle at Structurae
  7. "Space Needle Fun Facts". Space Needle Official Site. August 19, 2015. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  8. "Space Needle".
  9. Sistek, Scott (February 28, 2017). "Lightning doesn't strike the same place twice? The Space Needle begs to differ". KOMO.
  10. "Seattle holds groundbreaking ceremony for the Space Needle on April 17, 1961". Retrieved January 12, 2007.
  11. "Photos: Revamping Space Needle is like 'building a ship inside a glass bottle'". The Seattle Times. November 7, 2017. Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  12. Treviño, Julissa (May 24, 2018). "Seattle's Iconic Space Needle Unveils New Look After $100 Million Renovation".
  13. O'Hare, Maureen (June 25, 2018). "Seattle's Space Needle gets see-through floor".
  14. Speidel, Bill. Through the Eye of the Needle. Seattle: Nettle Creek. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0914890042. The final design... was either John Graham's... or Victor Steinbrueck's, who took the trouble of calling me from his deathbed to make sure I didn't credit Graham.
  15. "Needle in the sky". Via Magazine. January 2006.
  16. "Big beam for Space Needle is protested". Seattle Times. November 30, 1999.
  17. Jacobs, Jeff (June 3, 2013). "Seattle Space Needle". Emerald City Journal. Retrieved December 20, 2013.
  18. "'Seattle World's Fair' poster".
  19. Northwest, Durango (July 16, 2010). "Durango Washington: Seattle Space Needle".
  20. Emporis GmbH. "Columbia Center".
  21. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 26, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. "Space Needle History". Space Needle.
  23. "Schulmerich Bells". Schulmerich Bells, LLC.
  24. "Space Needle History: Sounds of the Needle".
  25. "Century 21 Exposition (1962): Theme Songs and Souvenir Records". HistoryLink.
  26. rixarcade (August 15, 2013). "The Space Needle Carillon – Malaguena" via YouTube.
  27. "Fowler Nests in Needle's Studio for Morning Show". The Seattle Times. July 14, 1963. p. TV4.
  28. Banel, Feliks (April 17, 2019). "Frosty Fowler: Late local DJ stayed cool while Space Needle shook". Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  29. "High living atop Space Needle OK". The Seattle Times. August 29, 1974. p. E15.
  30. Stredicke, Victor (October 27, 1974). "High living for KAYO disk jockey". The Seattle Times. p. TV26.
  31. P-I Staff and News Services (May 19, 2007). "Californian is Needle's 45 millionth visitor". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved May 30, 2007.
  32. "Cleaning Equipment for Home & Industrial Applications". Kärcher.
  33. "Spit and polish for a Seattle icon". KOMO News. May 15, 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2016.
  34. Trujillo, Joshua (April 17, 2012). "Space Needle returns to its original color". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  35. "Space Needle painted crimson and gray". Washington State University. November 15, 2005. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  36. Greenstone, Scott (June 12, 2017), "Space Needle to get its biggest renovation ever: glass floor, opened views, more elevators", The Seattle Times
  37. Young, Bob (September 16, 2017), "Circular scaffolding goes up on Space Needle in preparation for makeover", The Seattle Times
  38. Mandapat, Dave (September 19, 2017), Space Needle To Launch Historic Renovation Project [press release], Space Needle, LLC
  39. Schlosser, Kurt (September 19, 2017), "Drone video shows 28,000-pound scaffold being lifted 400 feet for Space Needle renovation", Geekwire
  40. "Parachutist's jump from Space Needle goes awry". CNN. November 21, 1996.
  41. "Fun Facts –Space Needle".
  42. "Woman falls to death from Space Needle". The Sunday Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. Associated Press. May 26, 1974. p. 49.
  43. "Seattle Space Needle was site of premature birth". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. Associated Press. June 12, 1974. p. 92.
  44. "3rd Person Kills Self at Needle". Albany Democrat-Herald. Albany, Oregon. July 6, 1978. p. 12. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  45. Jeremy Packer (2009). Secret Agents: Popular Icons Beyond James Bond. Peter Lang. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-8204-8669-7.
  46. Steve Zimmerman (2012). Food in the Movies, 2d ed. McFarland. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-7864-5569-0.
  47. Kim Fellner (2008). Wrestling with Starbucks: Conscience, Capital, Cappuccino. Rutgers University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-8135-4506-6.
  48. "KING-TV on Space Needle hoax: Sorry, folks". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. April 3, 1989. p. A8.
  49. Dougherty, Phil (September 26, 2017). "KING-TV reports Space Needle collapse on April 1, 1989". HistoryLink. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
  50. Clutter, Stephen (April 2, 1989). "Too deep a needling?". The Seattle Times. p. B4.
  51. "".
  52. McFadden, Kay (May 13, 2004). "Condo by condo, Seattle has become a lot like 'Frasier'". The Seattle Times. Retrieved January 23, 2010.
  53. Fuchs, Cynthia. "Dark Angel". PopMatters. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  54. "Lego Architecture: Seattle Space Needle". Lego Architecture.
  55. Hohenadel, Kristin (December 31, 2013). "A New Eiffel Tower Building Set for Paris-Loving Lego Fanatics". Slate. Retrieved October 22, 2017.

Further reading

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