The Space Needle is a tower in Seattle, Washington and is a major landmark of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and a symbol of Seattle. Located at the Seattle Center, it was built for the 1962 World's Fair, during which time nearly 20,000 people a day used the elevators, with over 2.3 million visitors in all for the World Fair. The Space Needle is 605 feet (184 m) high at its highest point and 138 feet (42 m) wide at its widest point and weighs 9,550 tons. When it was completed it was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour (89 m/s) and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude, which would protect the structure against an earthquake as powerful as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. The tower also has 25 lightning rods on its roof to prevent lightning damage.
The Space Needle features an observation deck at 520 feet (160 m), and a gift shop with the rotating SkyCity restaurant at 500 feet (150 m). From the top of the Needle, one can see not only the Downtown Seattle skyline, but also the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands. Photographs of the Seattle skyline often show the Space Needle in a prominent position, even appearing to tower above the rest of the city's skyscrapers, as well as Mount Rainier in the background. This occurs because the tower, which is equivalent in height to a 60-story building, stands more than a kilometer northwest of most downtown skyscrapers.
Visitors can reach the top of the Space Needle via elevators that travel at 10 miles per hour (4.5 m/s). The trip takes 43 seconds, and some tourists wait in hour-long lines in order to ascend to the top of the tower. On windy days, the elevators are slowed down to a speed of 5 miles per hour (2.2 m/s). The Space Needle was designated a historic landmark on April 19, 1999 by the City's Landmarks Preservation Board.
The architecture of the Space Needle is the result of a compromise between designs of two architects, Edward E. Carlson and John Graham, Jr. The two leading ideas for the World Fair involved businessman Edward 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). Victor Steinbrueck introduced the hourglass profile of the tower. The Space Needle was built to withstand wind velocities of 200 mph, 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 escape 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.
At approximately 605 feet (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 feet (295 m). 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 one was nearly dead when, in 1961, they discovered a plot, 120 by 120 feet (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.
The earthquake stability of the Space Needle was ensured when a hole was dug 30 feet (9.1 m) deep and 120 feet (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. With this concrete base weighing the same as the above-ground structure, the Needle's center of gravity is just 5 feet (1.5 m) above ground level. The structure is bolted to the foundation with 72 bolts, each one 30 feet (9.1 m) long.
With time an issue, the construction team worked around the clock. The top dome 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.
During the World's Fair, an imitation carillon was installed in the Space Needle, and played several times a day. The carillon recreated the tones of a total of 538 bells, and was built by the Schulmerich Company under the name "Carillon Americana". 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 stentors of the carillon were located in the bottom part of the disc, and were audible over the entire fairgrounds, and beyond.
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, becoming for a time the mascot of the Seattle SuperSonics who played in nearby Key Arena (originally The Coliseum), before departing for Oklahoma City.
In 1982, the SkyLine level was added at a height of 100 feet (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 nearly five times the original price ($21 million). Renovations between 1999 and 2000 included the SkyCity restaurant, SpaceBase retail store, Skybeam installation, Observation Deck overhaul, lighting additions and repainting.
In 2000, celebrations and a fireworks show were canceled due to 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.
Every year on New Year's Eve, the Space Needle celebrates with a fireworks show at midnight that is synchronized to music. The 2007/2008 show stopped, restarted, then stopped again with the rest of the pyrotechnics needing to be detonated by hand. The pyrotechnics crew blamed the problem on a corrupted file in the customized software they use to control the timed detonations.