On this sunny summer day in downtown Seattle, we visit the Smith Tower skyscraper in Pioneer Square.
Conceived by the son of New York tycoon Lyman Cornelius Smith, construction began in 1910. Young Burns Lyman Smith was anticipating much publicity from the building and that’s just what he got with the gothic styled building with distinctive pyramid shaped cap. Completed in 1914, this 42 floor, 522 ft tall tower is the oldest skyscraper in Seattle and was the tallest building on the West Coast until the Seattle Space Needle overtook it in 1962.
Sadly, Lyman Cornelius Smith didn’t live long enough to see the million dollar tower completed. But his son was there on opening day July 3, 1914 along with about 4000 Seattle officials and the public to ride up to the 35th floor and gaze upon the city from the wrap-around observation deck. This is exactly what we’re going to do today.
The beautiful lobby is preserved today with much of the original marble facades and polished brass. We take the elevator and in less than a minute, we zip up 35 floors to our destination. Pulling our elevator up is one of the original Otis DC motors from the 1900’s.
A big attraction of Smith Tower, next to the observation deck, is the legendary Chinese Room. The room gets its name from all the carved teak wood in the ceiling and the carved blackwood furniture which has adorned it since opening day in 1914. The legend has it that the room was originally furnished by the last empress of China as a gift to the Smith’s.
Among the furnishings, is 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 right here in the Chinese Room.
Five of the original seven Otis elevators remain in operation today in Smith Tower, and they are still powered by the original DC motors installed in 1914.
The big attraction of Smith Tower today, just as it was in 1914, is the wraparound observation deck. From the observation deck you can stroll around the entire building and have a commanding view of the city from all angles. During restoration work in the early 1990s, workers removed a 10,000 gallon 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 is currently occupied by artist/investor Petra Franklin, husband David Lahaie, and their two daughters.
Our visit to Smith Tower has come to an end and we board elevator number 7 to descend the tower.