Smith Tower - Seattle, Washington - The Oldest Skyscraper in the City and Designated Landmark


The Smith Tower is located in Pioneer Square and noted as the oldest skyscraper in Seattle, Washington. Completed in 1914, the tower is named after its builder, firearm and typewriter magnateLyman Cornelius Smith. Containing 42 floors, it was the tallest office building west of the Mississippi River until theKansas City Power & Light Buildingwas built in 1931. It remained the tallest building on the West Coast until the Space Needleovertook it in 1962. The building is a designated landmark in the greater Seattle area.

The Smith Tower is a great example ofneoclassical architecture. Its outer skin is made of granite on the first and second floors, and terra cotta on the rest. It has been washed only once since its construction, in 1976, because it remains remarkably clean without regular washing.

The building is the last on the West Coast to have live elevator operators. TheOtis Elevator Companyprovided the elevators, which have uniquely designed brass surfaces. The doors are latticed, so a rider can see into each hallway and through the glass walls in front of each office.

The Chinese Room is on the 35th floor of the tower, the same level as the observatory. The furniture and the hand carved ceiling were gifts from theEmpressofChina. They include the famous Wishing Chair. It is said that a single woman who sits in the chair will marry within a year. The legend came true for Smith's daughter, who married in the Chinese Room itself.

After the restoration in the early nineties, workers removed a thousand-gallon water tank in the very top of the tower. This resulted in much new space, and what was formerly a small maintenance man's apartment became a three-story penthouse, the only residence in the building.

The very top of the building is crowned by an eight-foot wide glass dome which is illuminated by blue light, except for the month of December, when it is changed to green. The 37th floor originally contained a caretaker's apartment. Above was a multi-story, 10,000-gallon, cast iron water tank. The water tank was disassembled by welders who cut it into pieces small enough to fit into the elevator. Then the entire space was remade into a penthouse apartment. It is the only residence in the building and contains a massive Dale Chihuly chandelier.

The Smith Tower has survived three earthquakes of a magnitude of 6.0 or greater: 2001, 1965, and 1949. The ground under the Smith Tower was never part of the tidal mud flats that underlie much of Pioneer Square. Core samples down to 122 feet below 2nd Avenue reveal fallen trees, some as large as 3 feet in diameter, which have never been exposed to seawater.

The Smith Tower is just eight blocks south of the Pike Place Market in the "Ride Free" zone. No fare is required if you board and exit a bus within the downtown area. Most buses heading south on 1st, 2nd, or 3rd avenues will stop at James Street or Yesler Way. The Tower is a short 7-minute walk from downtown.

The building is currently owned by Walton Street Capital and managed by Wright Runstad & Company.

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