The Seattle Space Needle: Opened In 1962, A National Landmark
Left: Poster for the 1962 World's Fair. Right: A view of the Space Needle from the World's Fair's Plaza of the States, 1962. Sources: Etsy.com; Wikimedia Commons
The Seattle Space Needle, built for the 1962 World's Fair, is a structure that symbolizes its city like few others -- it does what the Eiffel Tower does for Paris, or the Gateway to the West arch for St. Louis. The Needle's soaring curves and Saturn-style halo remind us of the era's fascination with space travel. You've seen it in a musical (It Happened At The World's Fair, starring Elvis Presley, 1963), a thriller (The Parallax View, starring Warren Beatty, 1974), and a chick-flick (Sleepless In Seattle, 1993), as well as in the logos for the TV show Frazier and the Seattle SuperSonics. Read on for history, trivia and facts about the Space Needle.
The Seattle Space Needle: The Basic Facts
The Space Needle opened on April 21, 1962. It was originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Century 21 Exposition where the theme year was “The Age of Space.” The idea was a structure to symbolize mankind’s Space Age aspirations. The tower is 605 feet tall and has a 520 foot saucer shaped top house. From within the top house, visitors have a 360 degree view of Seattle, the Olympics, Mount Rainier, the Cascades and Puget Sound.
We Still Have The Original 1959 Napkin Doodle Of The Space Needle
The conception for the Space Needle came in 1959, when Edward E. Carlson, the hotel executive who was an organizer for the World’s Fair was inspired by a broadcast tower that featured a restaurant when he traveled to Stuttgart, Germany. He doodled his inspiration on a napkin. He called his conception the Space Needle. He then worked with his initial idea, passing it through many transformations until the final design was created. The architect John “Jack” Graham Jr. designed the top house, while Victor Steinbrueck designed the tower, which he based on a sculpture of a dancer called “The Feminine One.”
The Site Had Previously Been Home To A Fire Station
In addition to design, they also needed to finance the construction and find land they could acquire for private use within the fairgrounds. The search proved difficult, but just before they gave up, they found a lot on the site of an old fire station and purchased it 13 months before the fair began.
The Needle's Halo Is Painted 'Re-Entry Red'
Using 467 trucks over the course of one day, they filled a hole 30 feet deep and 120 feet across with cement to create the foundation of the tower. Upon completion, the foundation weighed as much as the tower itself. In December, 1961, the basic construction was complete and then the final coats of paint were applied: "Astronaut White" for the legs, "Orbital Olive" for the core of the structure, "Re-Entry Red" for the Halo, and "Galaxy Gold" for the sunburst and pagoda.
The Wheedle Lives Atop The Needle
Opening day, the first day of the World’s Fair, the Space Needle welcomed 2.65 million visitors, including celebrities like Elvis Presley and Carol Channing as well as a multitude of other public figures such as Prince Phillip, Bobby Kennedy, and Jonas Salk. In the following year, a public radio broadcasting station was built in the top of the building. In 1974, children’s author Stephen Cosgrove introduced the character The Wheedle, a shy orange character who supposedly lived atop the Needle. In 1999, they unveiled the legacy lights which shine upwards on national holidays and other special occasions; they shone for 11 days following the September 11th attacks. Then, in September 2017, the Century Project was introduced to renovate the Needle.
Look Out Below, The Needle Now Has A Rotating Glass Floor
Prior to the renovation of the Space Needle in 2018, the Olson Kundig architectural firm conducted a study which found that the Space Needle is inextricably linked to the Seattle skyline as well as the city’s cultural identity. The goal of the renovation was two-fold: to preserve the iconic structure and to improve the visitor’s experience. The first stage of renovation of the Space Needle was completed in 2018; this renovation created multi-level, floor-to-ceiling glass viewing experiences including an upper level outdoor observation deck with open-air glass walls and Skyriser glass benches. The Oculus, a grand wood, steel, and glass staircase connects the upper-level to The Loupe, the world’s first, and only, rotating glass floor below. One of the interesting components of the renovation was the addition of the glass viewing panels on the outside viewing deck. The Needle was originally built with open air viewing, but a security cage was added. In the original design for the building, the architects wanted to use glass panels, but in the 1960s, there was a shortage of glass, and so, by 2018, they were able to restore that portion of the original vision.
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