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The Seattle Space Needle

Symbol of Seattle Washington

The Seattle Space Needle on a Sunny Day

The Seattle Space Needle on a Sunny Day

Seattle Space Needle

The Space Needle is Seattle's most recognizeable landmark and the symbol of the city. Naturally, it is also one of the most popular attractions. On a clear day visitors can enjoy views of the surrounding city, Puget Sound and mountains over 100 miles away.

The idea for this unique, graceful architecture was literally first sketched on a placemat. The Space Needle is located at the Seattle Center, the site of the Seattle's 1962 World's Fair. The name and design of they were the centerpiece of the futuristic themed Century 21 Exposition.

Although they were intended to look like space capsules, to me the brightly colored glass door elevators resemble yellow lady bugs crawling up the sides of the 605 foot tall needle. Every year the three elevators transport approximately a million passengers to and from the revolving Space Needle Restaurant and observation deck near the top.

When it was built, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and was designed to withstand earthquakes up to 9.1 magnitude and winds up to 200 miles per hour.

Nearly every day I pass by this graceful building and enjoy photographing it throughout the year in every season and in all types of weather. I hadn't taken a trip to the top for several years until I recently had the opportunity to celebrate the needle's 50th birthday and enjoy the view on a sunny day while eating lunch in the Sky City Restaurant.

I thought I'd commemorate the occasion by sharing some photos of the Space Needle and the story of how this landmark structure was built.

All photos by the author, Vicki Green, unless otherwise credited

Going up in the Space Needle

Looking up from the base of the Space Needle -Seattle, WA

Looking up from the base of the Space Needle -Seattle, WA

Have you been to the top of the Space Needle?

Where is the Seattle Space Needle?

The Space Needle is located at the Seattle Center which was the location of the 1962 World's Fair. It is about a mile away from the tall buildings of the city center which makes its height appear deceiving. Many photographers who want to include the Space Needle in a photo of the city skyline do so from Queen Anne Hill. Kerry Park is a favorite vantage point which puts the structure in the foreground and makes it appear taller than all of the other buildings. The Space Needle is actually the 6th tallest building in Seattle.

A Map of Seattle Showing the Space Needle

The Space Needle: Symbol of Seattle - By Robert Spector

This book tells the story of the Seattle Space Needle which is more than a simple story of a building. It is also an interesting story about business leaders of the community and the civic pride of the city in the early 1960s.

Sketch of the Space Needle Submitted to the Seattle Engineering Department

Prototype Drawing  of the Space Needle

Prototype Drawing of the Space Needle

The Symbol of a City Begins on a Placemat

The story of how what has become an icon was designed

One of the business leaders who planned the 1962 World's Fair was Edward Carlson. In 1959, the plan for the fair still needed a centerpiece structure when Carlson had an idea for a design after seeing the Stuttgart Tower on a trip to Germany. He used a coffeeshop placemat to sketch a design for a futuristic tower and showed it to the rest of the group who were planning the fair.

The idea was discussed and brought to architect John Graham and his team of architects. After many hours of work and discussions the final design merged Carlson's idea of a balloon-like structure tethered to the ground with Graham's concept of a flying saucer. Victor Steinbrueck is credited with adding the idea for the hourglass shape of the tower. The drawings were completed in 1960 with only a year and a half before the fair opened to build the tower.

The photo is not the original sketch on a placemat, but is the final prototype drawing that was submitted as part of the plan to the city's building department.

Construction of the Space Needle

The Seattle Space Needle Under Construction 1961

The Seattle Space Needle Under Construction 1961

Finding a Site for the Space Needle

The Search for a Location

Not only did the design need to be completed, but since it was a private venture and not publicly owned, the land for the building site needed to be located and purchased at the designated site of the fair. Finally, after some negotiations a parcel of land the right size was made available on the fairgrounds. The piece of land measuring 120 by 120 feet was purchased in March 1961 only 13 months before the fair was to open.

The Space Needle Rises

Seattle Space Needle Construction Photo

Seattle Space Needle Construction Photo

Scroll to Continue

The Tower Rises

The race was on to complete construction before April 21, 1962, the opening day of the fair. The tower was built under the direction of the Howard S. Wright Construction Company, and happened with amazing speed. A hole for the foundation measuring 30 feet deep and 120 feet across was dug. The hole was filled in one day with concrete from 467 cement trucks in the largest continuous concrete pour ever attempted in the Western US. The foundation weighs as much as the tower itself with the center of gravity at only 5 feet above ground level.

When it was built, the Space Needle was the tallest building west of the Mississippi and construction far exceeded the building standards. It was built twice as strong as what was required by the building codes at the time. It was designed to withstand catastrophic earthquakes up to 9.1 magnitude and hurricane force winds up to 200 miles per hour. It also has 25 lightning rods on the top to prevent damage by lightning.

The structure was completed in December of 1961, but the final opening was down to the wire, with the last elevator installed on April 20th - the day before the opening day of the fair.

The total construction cost was 4.5 million dollars.

An Aerial View of the Space Needle Under Construction

Construction of the Space Needle Revolving Restaurant

Construction of the Space Needle Revolving Restaurant

The Space Needle Revolving Restaurant

The construction of the top was completed including the observation deck and a restaurant that revolves 360 degrees in an hour - a perfect speed for diners to get a view in every direction while enjoying a meal. The restaurant sits on a turntable that consists of 24 steel sections and measures 94.5 feet in diameter. The turntable was made a few miles north in Everett, Washington by Western Gear Works.

Vintage Space Needle Photo - 1962

The Seattle Space Needle - 1962

The Seattle Space Needle - 1962

Completion in 1962

This is the photo when the World's Fair opened in 1962. The original colors were: Astronaut White for the support pillars and top, Orbital Olive for the central tower core, Re-entry Red for the halo and Galaxy Gold for the sunburst and roof.

The 50th Anniversary of the Space Needle

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World's Fair, in April 2012 the roof was repainted in the original Galaxy Gold color.

50 Years Old in 2012 - A Return to the Galaxy Gold Roof Color

Space Needle 2012 Retro Gold Roof

Space Needle 2012 Retro Gold Roof

Take a trip in an elevator to the top of the Space Needle

Current live views from Space Needle Web Cams

The Restaurant with the Best View in Town - Lunch at the Sky City Restaurant

Space Needle Restaurant

Space Needle Restaurant

Sky City Restaurant

All of the tables at the Sky City Restaurant have a fabulous view. The restaurant rotates 360 degrees in an hour. As the restaurant revolves guests enjoy views in every direction while eating their meal. Read the reviews and comments from other travelers about the Sky City Restaurant at Trip Advisor.

A Flyover by the Blue Angels - The Seafair Festival Blue Angels Performance

Blue Angels Over Seattle Space Needle

Blue Angels Over Seattle Space Needle

Seahawks 12th Man Flag

Seahawks 12th Man Flag

Seahawks 12th Man Flag

Angry Birds in Space Launch - March 20, 2012

Angry Birds in Space Launch - March 20, 2012

Angry Birds in Space Launch - March 20, 2012

Watch the Fireworks Display from the Space Needle on New Year's Eve

The Wheedle on the Needle - By Steven Cosgrove

My children loved all of the Steven Cosgrove books, but since we lived in the Seattle area, this book was one of their special favorites. The story is about Wheedle, a grumpy Sasquatch who is in search of a quiet place to sleep in Seattle and his quest leads him to the top of the Space Needle with interesting results. The Wheedle was also the mascot of the now defunct Seattle Sonics NBA Basketball Team, which added to the fun of the book at that time. As with all of Steven Cosgrove's books, this one is beautifully illustrated by Robin James and includes a subtle parable type of lesson. Although Cosgrove's books are recommended for ages 4 through 8, my children and enjoyed them for many more years. If you are looking for wonderful children's books and haven't discovered Steven Cosgrove, I heartily recommend.

Seattle CityPASS

If you are visiting Seattle and plan to include a trip to the Space Needle and some of the other popular attractions, consider purchasing a Seattle CityPASS. A Seattle City Pass will save you a considerable amount of money on the cost of your visit to the most popular attractions.

The Seattle CityPASS contains tickets to 5 of the most popular attractions in Seattle and is valid for 9 days. The booklet includes admission to the following:

1) Space Needle (2 visits in 24 hours - see it by day and by night)

2) Seattle Aquarium

3) Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour

4) Pacific Science Center or Chihuly Garden and Glass

5) Experience Music Project (EMP) or Woodland Park Zoo

© 2010 Vicki Green

Please sign my guestbook - Feel free to share your comments

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on December 31, 2014:

Most interesting, indeed. My parents went to the World's Fair in Seattle, and got to eat at the restaurant up on the Space Needle.

I've never gotten to go there, though I have passed through Seattle while en route to Canada one year.

I've always wished I could go see it in person. My father's side of the family has a sideways "connection" to the needle, in that one of his brothers-in-law worked for Western Gear (the San Francisco branch). So, uncle, personally, had nothing to do with the manufacture of the gear, but it was always fun to note that he worked for the company that made that humongous gear!

Voted up and interesting.

techgadgeteer on October 16, 2013:

I Love Seattle. My Home sweet home :-)

RennyCross on June 21, 2013:

Such a great lens on Seattle. I think Seattle lovers will love to squid like it again and again if there was a button to like it again and again. Can't wait to visit seattle again.

PinkstonePictures from Miami Beach, FL on February 17, 2013:

Thanks for a great lens. Seattle is one of the places I'd love to visit one day

Takkhis on January 04, 2013:

I have heard about it before but never got a lot of information, today i got it in this lovely lens.

SteveKaye on December 29, 2012:

Thank you for this wonderful tour of the Space Needle.

Oosquid on December 25, 2012:

I knew nothing about the Space Needle, I know quite a bit after reading your lens. Very interesting, top marks to you.

LotusLandry from Southern California on December 20, 2012:

I was at the Space Needle on opening day..

anonymous on November 19, 2012:

I have always want to visit Seattle and see all the sights.

Thank you for sharing so much. :)

KReneeC on May 12, 2012:

Great lens! I used to live in Oregon and so badly wanted to go visit Seattle just for the space needle! One day I will!

grannysage on May 11, 2012:

Definitely something I'd like to do. And not as scary as going up in the St. Louis Arch.

Laraine Sims from Lake Country, B.C. on April 01, 2012:

When we lived in Vancouver, we used to drive to Seattle often. It is a beautiful city! Spreading some angel dust over it now.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 01, 2012:

You do know Seattle so well. I have come to know it better.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 01, 2012:

You do know Seattle so well. I have come to know it better.

ThomasGeleta on March 29, 2012:

Great city

esvoytko lm on February 24, 2012:

I live an 8 minute walk away and I've still never been up the needle. Guess I'm a humbug.

anonymous on January 29, 2012:

if a have a chance to go to seatle.. i will go to space needle....thanks for sharing

jimmyworldstar on January 23, 2012:

I have a fear of heights so I've never been on the space needle's top, but it really is a big landmark when you consider that most of the buildings surrounding it are not as big.

photofk3 on January 18, 2012:

Nice lens, I hope to visit Seattle some day and also the Space Needle. I especially liked the pictures on this lens, thank you.

BusinessSarah on January 05, 2012:

How beautiful! I'm hoping to get to Seattle on my honeymoon, and these pictures helped me make up my mind :)

Sher Ritchie on December 25, 2011:

I love doing 'touristy' things - like visiting 'the world's biggest...' or 'the highest...' - your lens is fantastic! Wow!

PastorSam LM on December 15, 2011:

Very Nice Lens - I added you to my State of Washington Lensography.


waldenthreenet on November 30, 2011:

Space Needle. Love to visit someday soon. Have Washington Monument here in Washingotn DC. Not so high !

archandha on June 28, 2011:

Thank you for sharing these great pictures and the interesting information with us!

norma-holt on February 24, 2011:

This is another great lens on an interesting subject. Bit by bit I find lenses like this give great insight into cities around the world. *-*Blessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust.

KDimmick on January 05, 2011:

Blessed and featured on my angel lens :)

kimmanleyort on January 05, 2011:

Wonderful look at the Seattle Space Needle. The history is quite interesting. I have only ever passed through Seattle so have not had a chance to experience the Space Needle. I would imagine that the CN Tower in Toronto (which I have gone up) is a similar experience and that it's design was based on the Seattle Needle.

GrowWear on January 04, 2011:

Excellent work about the Seattle Space Needle! Congratulations for your review at SLR. :)

dustytoes on January 04, 2011:

The fireworks are awesome. What a great place to have them. I've never been to Seattle so thanks for sharing.

Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on January 03, 2011:

I've never been to Seattle, though I'd love to visit. I will say the Space Needle definitely defines Seattle! It's become one of the world's most well known icons, like the Gateway Arch here in St. Louis. Excellent story. I really enjoyed my virtual visit to the Space Needle.

Kathy McGraw from California on January 03, 2011:

I remember the first time I ever went there, it was beautiful, I have been up it a few times now, and each time it's different.

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on January 03, 2011:

I had a business meeting a few years back that included a meal at the top of the Space Needle. Thanks for the memories. Blessed

DecoratingEvents on January 02, 2011:

I love this city, and to this day, 31 years after I left, I still miss it. Thanks for jogging the memories!

Rachellewms on January 02, 2011:

Seattle is a city on my "must visit list" in 2011. Thanks for creating this informative lens

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