The Space Needle’s New Views

Post by Rosalie Daggett and Marga Rose Hancock

As a beacon of the 1962 Century 21 / World’s Fair and a marker for the Seattle Center, the Space Needle holds a prominent place in Seattle history and its identity.

Above:   Postcard Image of Space Needle with Helicopter, 1962

The John Graham Company (John Graham Jr. (1908-1991)) developed and designed the Space Needle, with architects John Ridley (1913-1997) and Victor Steinbrueck (1911-1985) and with structural engineering services provided by the Pasadena-based firm of John K. Minasian (1913-2007) and by Harvey H. Dodd & Associates, Seattle. Graham employee Lester Poole (1929-2018) recalled working with the team designing the Needle’s unique beams: “Howard Wright emphasized the critical schedule, asking ‘What have you got that can get this done quickly?’ We came up with the concept of three I-beams joining at flange corners. And people talked a lot about innovation in concrete.” Inspiration for the Needle came from a sculpture by David Lemon “The Feminine One.”

Above:   Courtesy of Peter Steinbrueck

Above:   Drawing courtesy of University of Washington Special Collections Division, ARC0107; photo composite by Dale Cotton

At the time of its 1962 construction, the Space Needle became Seattle’s tallest structure — exceeding the Smith Tower, which until then had ranked as the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

As part of the World’s Fair 50th anniversary observance in 2012, Knute Berger had a residency on the Needle’s top level, and wrote the book Space Needle: The Spirit of Seattle.

Among other documentation of the Needle: B.J. Bullert’s Space Needle: A Hidden History; and Space Needle About/History.

Above:   Space Needle under construction, 1961. Item 77335, Miscellaneous Prints (Record Series 9910-01),  Seattle Municipal Archives.

The 2017-19 renovation, known as the Century Project, designed by architect Alan Maskin with the Seattle architectural firm of Olson Kundig, added a revolving glass floor below the top viewing level, as documented in 2018 by KING 5 “Remaking an Icon.” This glass floor on the R-level, known as the “Loupe,” became the world’s first and only revolving glass floor in the air, at 500 feet. 

Above:   Courtesy of the Queen Anne Historical Society, 2019 

On a brisk winter day, two ladies walked down Queen Anne Hill together to take in the new views and they pondered: next time you visit the Space Needle’s R level, will you wear a skirt?

Note:  The Queen Anne Historical Society Landmarks Preservation Committee met with the Space Needle Corporation to review the early proposals for the Space Needle’s recent renovations, and monitored design development.  Society representatives spoke at Architectural Review Committee and Landmarks Preservation Board meetings leading to granting of the Certificate of Approval.