Space Needle

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This article is about the tower in Seattle. For other uses, see Space Needle (disambiguation).
Space Needle
Space Needle 2011-07-04.jpg
The Space Needle flying the flag of the United States on Independence Day, 2011
General information
Status Complete
Type Observation tower
Location 400 Broad Street
Seattle, Washington, United States
Coordinates 47°37′13″N 122°20′57″W / 47.6204°N 122.3491°W / 47.6204; -122.3491 (Space Needle)Coordinates: 47°37′13″N 122°20′57″W / 47.6204°N 122.3491°W / 47.6204; -122.3491 (Space Needle)
Construction started April 17, 1961
Completed December 8, 1961
Opening April 21, 1962
Owner Space Needle Corporation
Antenna spire 184.41 m (605.0 ft)
Top floor 158.12 m (518.8 ft)
Technical details
Floor count 6
Lifts/elevators 3
Design and construction
Architect John Graham & Company
Structural engineer John K. Minasian
Victor Steinbrueck
Main contractor Howard S. Wright Construction Co
Designated April 19, 1999[1]

The Space Needle is an observation tower in Seattle, Washington, a landmark of the Pacific Northwest, and an icon of Seattle. It was built in the Seattle Center for the 1962 World's Fair, which drew over 2.3 million visitors, when nearly 20,000 people a day used its elevators.

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 tons. It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour (89 m/s) and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude,[8] as strong as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. It also has 25 lightning rods.

It has an observation deck at 520 ft (160 m) and the rotating 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. Photographs of the Seattle skyline often show the Space Needle prominently, above skyscrapers and Mount Rainier.

Visitors can reach the top of the Space Needle by elevators that travel at 10 miles per hour (4.5 m/s). The trip takes 41 seconds. On windy days, the elevators slow to 5 miles per hour (2.2 m/s). On April 19, 1999, the city's Landmarks Preservation Board designated it a historic landmark.[7][9]


The top of the Space Needle.

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 (see the gently sloping base) and architect John Graham's concept of a flying saucer (see the halo that houses the restaurant and observation deck).[7] Victor Steinbrueck introduced the hourglass profile of the tower.[10] The Space Needle was built to withstand wind speeds of 200 mph (322 km/h), double the requirements in the building code of 1962. An earthquake registering 6.8 on the Richter Scale jolted the Needle enough in 2001 for water to slosh out of the toilets in the restrooms. The Space Needle can endure serious structural damage during earthquakes of magnitudes below 9. Also made to withstand Category 5 hurricane-force winds, the Space Needle sways only 1 inch per 10 mph (16 mm per 10 km/h) of wind speed.

For decades, the "hovering disk" of the Space Needle was home to two 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.[11] In 1993, the elevators were replaced with new computerized versions. The new elevators descend at a rate of 10 miles per hour (4.5 m/s).

On December 31, 1999 (New Year's Eve), 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.[12] 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.[13]

A 1962 "Seattle World's Fair" poster [1] showed a grand spiral entryway leading to the elevator that was ultimately omitted from final building plans.[14] 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).[15] Unlike many other similar structures, such as the CN Tower in Toronto, the Space Needle is not used for broadcasting purposes.



Edward E. Carlson, chairman of the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle, originally had an idea for erecting a tower with a restaurant at the World's Fair. Carlson was then president of a hotel company and not previously known for art or design, but he was inspired by a recent visit to the Stuttgart Tower of Germany. John Graham, an architect who had won praise for designing Northgate Mall in Seattle, soon became involved. Graham's first move was to make the restaurant featured in the plans revolve, in the same manner as a tower he had previously designed for the Ala Moana Shopping Center in Honolulu.

The proposed Space Needle had no land on which to be built. Since it was not financed by the city, land had to be purchased that was within the fairgrounds. The investors thought that there would be no land available to build a tower and the search for a site was nearly dead when, in 1961, they discovered a plot, 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. It was privately built and financed by the Pentagram Corporation, which consisted 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.[16]

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. At the time of construction, it was the tallest building in the West, taking the title from the Smith Tower across town that had held that title since 1914.


An imitation carillon[17] 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[18] 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, just as a player piano would be. 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.[19] The carillon was disassembled after the fair's close.

The carillon bells were featured on an LP record called "Bells On Hi-Fi" (catalog number AR-8, produced by Americana Records, of Sellersville, Pennsylvania). There are 12 pieces recorded on the "Carillon Americana" before it was installed in the Space Needle, performed by noted carilloneur John Klein (1915-1981).[20][21]

After the Fair[edit]

The Space Needle, seen here in May 2012, was painted Galaxy Gold for its 50th anniversary celebration.

In 1974, author Stephen Cosgrove's children's book Wheedle on the Needle postulated 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 had 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 a height of 100 ft (30 m). While this level had been depicted in 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 that cost approximately the same as the original construction price ($21 million in current currency). 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 worldwide renowned fireworks artist from Bellevue, Alberto Navarro has been designing the show for the past 20 year since inception in 1994. In 2000, public celebrations were canceled but the fireworks show was still performed because of perceived terror threats against the structure.

On May 19, 2007, the Space Needle welcomed its 45 millionth visitor. The guest, Greg Novoa of San Francisco, received a free trip for two to Paris, which included a VIP dinner at the Eiffel Tower.[22]

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[23] with water at a pressure of 20,000 kilopascals (2,900 psi) and a temperature of 90 °C (194 °F). No detergents were used in consideration of the Seattle Center and the EMP building.[24]

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.[25] 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 on after the team won the 1992 Rose Bowl, appeared as a giant "Wheel of Fortune" in the late 1990s, was painted crimson after Washington State won the Apple Cup,[26] and has been seen in Seattle SuperSonics colors.[7]

BASE jumping[edit]

Six parachutists have leaped from the tower since its opening, in a sport known as BASE jumping. This activity is only legal with prior consent. Four of them were part of an authorized promotion in 1996,[27] and the other two were arrested.[28] Numerous toy army men (with parachutes) have also made the jump.[29] After three suicides (two in 1974 and one in 1978), suicide-prevention netting and additional fencing was installed on the observation deck.[30]

In culture[edit]

Being a major symbol of the Pacific Northwest, the Space Needle has made numerous appearances in films, TV shows and other works of fiction. A few 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 there's a brief chase 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.[citation needed] It is also featured prominently in Chronicle (2012), and is a key element in the film's climax.[citation needed] On April 1, 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. The story is an April Fools' Day practical joke. [31]

In TV shows, one of the most prominent showings is in the series Frasier where an outline of it appears in the opening credits and the base of it is visible from the high-rise condo although the view is really a composite image as there are no high rise condos in the right area of that height.[32] It also appears in nearly every episode of the Seattle-set series Grey's Anatomy, often in helicopter fly-by shots.[citation needed] The Space Needle also makes appearances in Nickelodeon TV show iCarly where it can be seen with other surrounding buildings in the Seattle area.[citation needed]

Other TV appearances include The History Channel's Life After People where it collapses after 200 years because of corrosion.[citation needed] It was also destroyed in the TV miniseries 10.5 when a 7.9 earthquake hits Seattle.[citation needed] The movie mistakenly portrays the Needle as crumbling concrete,[citation needed] 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.[33]

The Space Needle has been used for some other purposes as well, including a 57 piece Lego construction set of it that has been released as part of Lego Architecture's structures.[better source needed][34]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Landmarks and Designation". City of Seattle. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  2. ^ Space Needle at CTBUH Skyscraper Database
  3. ^ Space Needle at Emporis
  4. ^ Space Needle at Glass Steel and Stone
  5. ^ Space Needle at SkyscraperPage
  6. ^ Space Needle at Structurae
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Space Needle Fun Facts". Space Needle Official Site. August 19, 2015. Retrieved August 19, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Space Needle". 
  9. ^ "Seattle holds groundbreaking ceremony for the Space Needle on April 17, 1961". Retrieved 2007-01-12. 
  10. ^ Bill Speidel, Through the Eye of the Needle, Seattle: Nettle Creek, ISBN 0914890042. p. 6–7. , "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."
  11. ^ "Needle in the sky". Via Magazine. January 2006. 
  12. ^ "Big beam for Space Needle is protested", Seattle Times, 30 November 1999.
  13. ^ Jacobs, Jeff (June 3, 2013). "Seattle Space Needle". Emerald City Journal. Retrieved 2013-12-20. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Emporis GmbH. "Columbia Center". 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ P-I Staff and News Services (May 19, 2007). "Californian is Needle's 45 millionth visitor". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved May 30, 2007. 
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Spit and polish for a Seattle icon". KOMO News. 
  25. ^ Trujillo, Joshua (April 17, 2012). "Space Needle returns to its original color". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved August 19, 2015. 
  26. ^ "Space Needle painted crimson and gray". Washington State University. November 15, 2005. Retrieved August 19, 2015. 
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^,878253&hl=en
  31. ^
  32. ^ McFadden, Kay (2004-05-13). "Condo by condo, Seattle has become a lot like 'Frasier'". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-01-23. 
  33. ^ Fuchs, Cynthia. "Dark Angel". PopMatters. Retrieved June 23, 2015. 
  34. ^ "Lego Architecture: Seattle Space Needle". Lego Architecture. 
  35. ^ "Space needle during Christmas". Flickr. 

External links[edit]