Smith Tower

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Smith Tower
SmithTower Seattle WA USA2.jpg
Smith Tower as seen from the Pacific Building.
Smith Tower is located in Seattle WA Downtown
Smith Tower
Location within downtown Seattle
Alternative namesL.C. Smith Building (1914–1929)
Record height
Tallest in Seattle and Washington state from 1914 to 1962[1][I]
Preceded byHoge Building (Seattle)
Key Bank Center (Tacoma/statewide)
Surpassed bySpace Needle
General information
TypeCommercial offices
Location500 Second Avenue
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Coordinates47°36′08″N 122°19′54″W / 47.602092°N 122.331803°W / 47.602092; -122.331803Coordinates: 47°36′08″N 122°19′54″W / 47.602092°N 122.331803°W / 47.602092; -122.331803
Construction started1911
CostUS$1.5 million
OwnerUnico Properties
Antenna spire484 ft (148 m)
Roof462 ft (141 m)
Technical details
Floor count38[2]
Floor area28,275 m2 (304,350 sq ft)
Design and construction
ArchitectGaggin & Gaggin
Main contractorE.E. Davis Company
DesignatedJune 12, 1984

Smith Tower is a skyscraper in the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, United States. 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.[7] It was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River until the completion of the Kansas City Power & Light Building in 1931.[7] It remained the tallest building on the U.S. West Coast for nearly half a century, until the Space Needle overtook it in 1962.[8]

The tower is named after its builder, the firearm and typewriter magnate Lyman Cornelius Smith. It was designated as a Seattle landmark in 1984.[9][10]


Smith Tower construction, February 1913

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,[7] with a pinnacle height of 159 m (522 ft).[4] 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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13][14]

Completed Smith Tower in 1914
Another view of Smith Tower looking north on 2nd Avenue, 1914

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.[14][15] Smith Tower was sold to CBRE at a public foreclosure auction on March 23, 2012.[6]

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., Aukema & Associates, Push Design, and Rialto Communications.[16]

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.[17][18]

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 price being a reference to the date of the building. A discount is offered with a Washington State Driver's License.[19] Access to the bar without paying for the tour requires a cover charge of about half that price.[20][21] A new retail store on the ground floor was also opened following the renovation.[17][18][22] The building was sold to Goldman Sachs in October 2018 as part of a $750 million package of Unico properties in Seattle and Denver.[23]


View looking north from the observation deck, August 2007

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.

The building was one of the last on the West Coast to employ elevator operators. The Otis Elevator Company provided the elevators, which have brass surfaces. The original doors were latticed scissor gates, so a rider could see into each hallway and through the glass walls in front of each office. The elevators were automated and modernized beginning in 2017, for faster service time and seismic safety, with new glass doors still allowing riders a view into the hallways and lobbies.[24]

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 a family of four.[25][26]

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.

In Popular Culture[edit]

In 2012, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard paid tribute to the Smith Tower in the song "Teardrop Windows."[27]


  1. ^ a b Smith Tower at Emporis
  2. ^ a b "Smith Tower". CTBUH Skyscraper Center.
  3. ^ Smith Tower at Glass Steel and Stone (archived)
  4. ^ a b "Smith Tower". SkyscraperPage.
  5. ^ Smith Tower at Structurae
  6. ^ a b Pryne, Eric (March 23, 2012). "Smith Tower gets new owner". Seattle Times. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
  7. ^ Woodridge, Sally B.; Roger Montgomery (1980). A Guide to Architecture in Washington State. University of Washington Press. p. 116. ISBN 0-295-95779-4.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Department of Neighborhoods (2011). "Individual Landmarks Alphabetical Listing for S". City of Seattle. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  10. ^ "Smith, L.C., Tower, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  11. ^ Romano, Benjamin J. (August 21, 2006). "Seadragon maintains startup atmosphere even after Microsoft acquisition". Seattle Times.
  12. ^ Cohen, Aubrey (February 22, 2007). "Smith Tower applies to convert from offices to condos". Seattle P-I. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Pryne, Eric (January 11, 2012). "Smith Tower foreclosure auction set for March 23". Seattle Times. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  14. ^ Pryne, Eric (October 25, 2011). "Smith Tower owner in default on big loan". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  15. ^ Rami Grunbaum (May 5, 2012). "Smith Tower shows signs of life with new owner; McKinstry expands; Yahoo CEO's F5 flap". Retrieved October 28, 2012.
  16. ^ a b "New bar, 'general store' part of big Smith Tower renovation", Puget Sound Business Journal, June 1, 2016, retrieved August 30, 2016
  17. ^ a b Rosenberg, Mike (June 2, 2016), Smith Tower observation deck to reopen with speakeasy, retrieved August 30, 2016
  18. ^ "Smith Tower Online - Online Registrations". Retrieved 2019-09-12.
  19. ^ Saez, Rosin (August 25, 2016), "Smith Tower's Speakeasy-Inspired Bar Opens Today; A tongue-in-cheek bar named Temperance has booze aplenty", Seattle Metropolitan, retrieved August 30, 2016
  20. ^ DeMay, Daniel (August 25, 2016). "Views from the 35th floor: Smith Tower tours begin anew". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved August 29, 2016.
  21. ^ Coughlin-Bogue, Tobias (Aug 22, 2016), "Smith Tower Gets a Facelift—and There Will Be Vests", The Stranger, retrieved August 30, 2016
  22. ^ Rosenberg, Mike (October 23, 2018). "Goldman Sachs buying Seattle's historic Smith Tower". The Seattle Times. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  23. ^ Schlosser, Kurt (October 5, 2017). "End of a long ride: Seattle's historic Smith Tower to automate elevators after 103 years of manual operation". GeekWire. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  24. ^ Tortorello, Michael (October 20, 2010). "Making a Home in a Pyramid, 462 Feet Above Seattle". The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  25. ^ Belle, Rachel (July 7, 2016), "Tower Sessions: Watch a live concert in a private living room at the tip top of Seattle's Smith Tower",
  26. ^ Martins, Chris (August 29, 2012). "Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard Reveals Solo Single 'Teardrop Windows'". Spin. Retrieved September 29, 2019.

External links[edit]