Smith Tower as seen from the Pacific Building.
|Alternative names||L.C. Smith Building (1914–1929)|
|Tallest in Seattle and Washington state from 1914 to 1962[I]|
|Preceded by||Hoge Building (Seattle)|
Key Bank Center (Tacoma/statewide)
|Surpassed by||Space Needle|
|Location||500 Second Avenue|
|Antenna spire||484 ft (148 m)|
|Roof||462 ft (141 m)|
|Floor area||28,275 m2 (304,350 sq ft)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Gaggin & Gaggin|
|Main contractor||E.E. Davis Company|
|Designated||March 11, 1987|
Smith Tower is a skyscraper in Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington. Completed in 1914, the 38-story, 484 ft (148 m) tower is the oldest skyscraper in the city, and was among the tallest skyscrapers outside New York City at the time of its completion. It was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River until the completion of the Kansas City Power & Light Building in 1931. It remained the tallest building on the West Coast for nearly half a century until the Space Needle overtook it in 1962.
During a trip to Seattle in 1909, Smith planned to build a 14-story building in Seattle. His son, Burns Lyman Smith, convinced him to build instead a much taller skyscraper to steal the crown from rival city Tacoma's National Realty Building as the tallest west of the Mississippi River. Construction began in 1911. Although Smith did not live to see it, the building was completed in 1914 to a height of 143 m (469 ft) from curbside to the top of the pyramid, with a pinnacle height of 159 m (522 ft). Smith Tower opened to the public on July 4, 1914. Over 4,000 Seattleites rode to the 35th floor on opening day. The Chinese Room, whose name was retired following the 2016 renovation, derived from the carved teak ceiling and blackwood furniture that adorned the room on opening. The room was furnished by the last Empress of China, Cixi. Furnishings include the famous Wishing Chair. The chair incorporates a carved dragon and a phoenix, which, when combined, portends marriage. According to folklore, any wishful unmarried person who sits in it would be married within a year. The legend came true for Smith's daughter, who married in the Chinese Room itself.
Ivar Haglund of Ivar's restaurant fame bought the tower for $1.8 million in 1976. The Samis Foundation acquired the tower in 1996. In 2006, the building was purchased by Walton Street Capital. The building has been renovated twice, in 1986 and in 1999.
In recent years high-tech companies have been occupants of Smith Tower, which sports fiber-optic wiring. The burst of the dot-com bubble hurt Smith Tower by raising its vacancy rate to 26.1 percent, twice Seattle's commercial vacancy rate, as of December 21, 2001. The Walt Disney Internet Group, for example, at the time reduced its seven floors to four. By 2007, the occupancy rate had rebounded to about 90 percent, with new occupants such as Microsoft Live Labs.
Following the announced departure of the building's two largest occupants that included Disney, which moved to the Fourth and Madison Building, Walton Street Capital filed an unsuccessful application to convert the building into condominiums.
In 2011 CBRE Group reported that they had purchased a 2006 $42.5 million mortgage in default on the Smith Tower. The loan was taken out by current owner Walton Street. When CBRE stepped in, the building was 70 percent vacant, its rent income was not covering its operating expenses, and its value was assessed by the county to be less than half of its 2006 mortgage. Smith Tower was sold to CBRE at a public foreclosure auction on March 23, 2012.
In the spring of 2012 Smith Tower experienced a brief revitalization in the form of new companies moving into some of its empty floors including Portent, Inc., an internet marketing company, marketing consultant Aukema & Associates, graphic-design firm Push Design, and Rialto Communications, a marketing and public-relations company.
In January 2015, Seattle-based real estate investment and operating company Unico Properties bought Smith Tower for $73.7 million. Later that year, the new owners stopped the visitor tour and began remodeling the public areas, including the Chinese Room, which had been closed since 2014. A new speakeasy-themed restaurant, with Prohibition era-inspired food and drink was built on the Observatory floor, in the same space as the Chinese Room, which was permanently closed. Parts of the Chinese Room decor and furniture, such as the Wishing Chair and carved teak ceilings, were used in this new restaurant.
A revised Smith Tower self-guided visitor tour, with new exhibits, resumed on August 25, 2016, along with the opening of the Observation floor bar, open to tour ticket holders at a cost of $19.14 — the number is a reference to the date of the building. A discount is offered with a WA state drivers licence. Access to the bar without paying for the tour requires a cover charge of about half that price. A new retail store on the ground floor was also opened following the renovation. The building was sold to Goldman Sachs in October 2018 as part of a $750 million package of Unico properties in Seattle and Denver.
Smith Tower is an example of neoclassical architecture. Its outer skin is granite on the first and second floors, and terracotta on the rest. The exterior has been washed only once, in 1976, because it remains remarkably clean without regular washing.
The building is one of the last on the West Coast to employ elevator operators. The Otis Elevator Company provided the elevators, which have brass surfaces. The doors are latticed, so a rider can see into each hallway and through the glass walls in front of each office.
After the restoration in the early 1990s, workers removed the 10,000-US-gallon (38,000 L) water tank in the top of the tower. The resulting space along with a former maintenance man's apartment became a three-story penthouse, the only residence in the building. It was occupied in 2010 by artist/investor Petra Franklin, husband David Lahaie, and their two daughters.
The building is crowned by an 8-foot-wide (2.4 m) glass dome illuminated by blue light, except during December when it is changed to green.
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