Seattle World’s Fair 1962

United States - Scott #1196 (1962)
United States – Scott #1196 (1962)

On April 21, 1962, the Century 21 Exposition — better known today as the Seattle World’s Fair — was officially opened in Seattle, Washington, in the northwest United States. In the six months between the opening and the October 21, 1962, closing, nearly 10 million people attended the fair. Unlike some other world’s fairs of its era, Century 21 made a profit.

As planned, the exposition left behind a fairground and numerous public buildings and public works; some credit it with revitalizing Seattle’s economic and cultural life. The fair saw the construction of the Space Needle and Alweg monorail, as well as several sports venues including Washington State Coliseum, now KeyArena, and performing arts buildings such as the Playhouse, now the Cornish Playhouse, most of which have since been replaced or heavily remodeled.

The site, slightly expanded since the fair, is now called Seattle Center; the United States Science Pavilion is now the Pacific Science Center. Another notable Seattle Center building, the Museum of Pop Culture (earlier called EMP Museum), was built nearly 40 years later and designed to fit in with the fairground atmosphere.

Map of Seattle in Washington State, U.S.A.

Tourist map of Seattle, Washington, showing location of Seattle Center and the Space Needle

1962 map of Seattle World's Fairgrounds

The fair was originally conceived in 1955 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1909 Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition, but it soon became clear that that date was too ambitious. With the Space Race underway and Boeing having “put Seattle on the map” as “an aerospace city”, a major theme of the fair was to show that “the United States was not really ‘behind’ the Soviet Union in the realms of science and space”. As a result, the themes of space, science, and the future completely trumped the earlier conception of a “Festival of the [American] West”.

In June 1960, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) certified Century 21 as a world’s fair. Project manager Ewen Dingwall went to Moscow to request Soviet participation, but was turned down. Neither the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam nor North Korea were invited.

As it happened, the Cold War had an additional effect on the fair. President John F. Kennedy was supposed to attend the closing ceremony of the fair on October 21, 1962. He bowed out, pleading a “heavy cold”; it later became public that he was dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The fair’s vision of the future displayed a technologically based optimism that did not anticipate any dramatic social change, one rooted in the 1950s rather than in the cultural tides that would emerge in the 1960s. Affluence, automation, consumerism, and American power would grow; social equity would simply take care of itself on a rising tide of abundance; the human race would master nature through technology rather than view it in terms of ecology. In contrast, 12 years later — even in far more conservative Spokane, Washington — Expo ’74 took environmentalism as its central theme. The theme of Spokane’s Expo ’74 was “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.”.

1960 map of what became the grounds of the Century 21 Exposition and later Seattle Center.
1960 map of what became the grounds of the Century 21 Exposition and later Seattle Center.

Once the fair idea was conceived, several sites were considered. Among the sites considered within Seattle were Duwamish Head in West Seattle; Fort Lawton (now Discovery Park) in the Magnolia neighborhood; and First Hill — even closer to Downtown than the site finally selected, but far more densely developed. Two sites south of the city proper were considered — Midway, near Des Moines, and the Army Depot in Auburn — as was a site east of the city on the south shore of Lake Sammamish.

The site finally selected for the Century 21 Exposition had originally been contemplated for a civic center. The idea of using it for the world’s fair came later and brought in federal money for the United States Science Pavilion (now Pacific Science Center) and state money for the Washington State Coliseum (later Seattle Center Coliseum, rebuilt 1993 as KeyArena). Some of the land had been donated to the city by James Osborne in 1881 and by David and Louisa Denny in 1889. Two lots at Third Avenue N. and John Street were purchased from St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, who had been planning to build a new church building there; the church used the proceeds to purchase land in the Montlake neighborhood. The Warren Avenue School, a public elementary school with several programs for physically handicapped students, was torn down, its programs dispersed, and provided most of the site of the Coliseum (now KeyArena). Near the school, some of the city’s oldest houses, apartments, and commercial buildings were torn down; they had been run down to the point of being known as the “Warren Avenue slum”. The old Fire Station No. 4 was also sacrificed.

As early as the 1909 Bogue plan, this part of Lower Queen Anne had been considered for a civic center. The Civic Auditorium (later the Opera House, now McCaw Hall), the ice arena (later Mercer Arena), and the Civic Field (rebuilt in 1946 as the High School Memorial Stadium), all built in 1927 had been placed there based on that plan, as was an armory (the Food Circus during the fair, later Center House).

Postcard portraying an aerial view of the Century 21 Exposition fairgrounds.
Postcard portraying an aerial view of the Century 21 Exposition fairgrounds.

The fair planners also sought two other properties near the southwest corner of the grounds. They failed completely to make any inroads with the Seattle Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, who had recently built Sacred Heart Church there; they did a bit better with the Freemasons’ Nile Temple, which they were able to use for the duration of the fair and which then returned to its previous use. It served as the site of the Century 21 Club. This membership organization, formed especially for the fair, charged $250 for membership and offered lounge, dining room, and other club facilities, as well as a gate pass for the duration of the fair. The city ended up leasing the property after the fair and in 1977 bought it from the Masons. The building was eventually incorporated into a theater complex including the Seattle Children’s Theatre.

Paul Thiry was the fair’s chief architect; he also designed the Coliseum building. Among the other architects of the fair, Seattle-born Minoru Yamasaki received one of his first major commissions to build the United States Science Pavilion. Yamasaki would later design New York’s World Trade Center. Victor Steinbrueck and John Graham, Jr. designed the Space Needle. Hideki Shimizu and Kazuyuki Matsushita designed the original International Fountain. Despite the plan to build a permanent civic center, more than half the structures built for the fair were torn down more or less immediately after it ended.

The grounds of the fair were divided into:

  • World of Science
  • World of Century 21 (also known as World of Tomorrow)
  • World of Commerce and Industry
  • World of Art
  • World of Entertainment
  • Show Street
  • Gayway
  • Boulevards of the World
  • Exhibit Fair
  • Food and Favors
  • Food Circus

Besides the monorail, which survives as of 2017, the fair also featured a Skyride that ran 1,400 feet (430 meters) across the grounds from the Gayway to the International Mall. The bucket-like three-person cars were suspended from cables that rose as high as 60 feet (18 m) off the ground. The Skyride was moved to the Puyallup Fairgrounds in 1980.

World Of Science
United States Science Pavilion (later Pacific Science Center) at Century 21 Exposition, Seattle, Washington. Photo taken on April 20, 1962.
United States Science Pavilion (later Pacific Science Center) at Century 21 Exposition, Seattle, Washington. Photo taken on April 20, 1962.

The World of Science centered on the United States Science Exhibit. It also included a NASA Exhibit that included models and mockups of various satellites, as well as the Project Mercury capsule that had carried Alan Shepard into space. These exhibits were the federal government’s major contribution to the fair.

The United States Science Exhibit began with Charles Eames’ 10-minute short film The House of Science, followed by an exhibit on the development of science, ranging from mathematics and astronomy to atomic science and genetics. The Spacearium held up to 750 people at a time for a simulated voyage first through the Solar System and then through the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond. Further exhibits presented the scientific method and the “horizons of science”. This last looked at “Science and the individual”, “Control of man’s physical surroundings”, “Science and the problem of world population”, and “Man’s concept of his place in an increasingly technological world”.

World of Century 21
Washington State Coliseum in Seattle, Washington, circa 1962.
Washington State Coliseum in Seattle, Washington, circa 1962.

The Washington State Coliseum, financed by the state of Washington, was one of Thiry’s own architectural contributions to the fairgrounds. His original conception had been staging the entire fair under a single giant air-conditioned tent-like structure, “a city of its own”, but there were neither the budgets nor the tight agreements on concept to realize that vision. In the end, he got exactly enough of a budget to design and build a 160,000 sq. ft. building suitable to hold a variety of exhibition spaces and equally suitable for later conversion to a sports arena and convention facility.

During the festival, the building hosted several exhibits. Nearly half of its surface area was occupied by the state’s own circular exhibit “Century 21 — The Threshold and the Threat”, also known as the “World of Tomorrow” exhibit, billed as a “21-minute tour of the future”. The building also housed exhibits by France, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am), General Motors (GM), the American Library Association (ALA), and RCA, as well as a Washington state tourist center.

Attendees line up to ride the
Attendees line up to ride the “Bubbleator” at the Century 21 Exposition in Seattle, Washington, 1962.

In “The Threshold and the Threat”, visitors rode a “Bubbleator” into the “world of tomorrow”. Music “from another world” and a shifting pattern of lights accompanied them on a 40-second upward journey to a starry space bathed in golden light. Then they were faced briefly with an image of a desperate family in a fallout shelter, which vanished and was replaced by a series of images reflecting the sweep of history, starting with the Acropolis and ending with an image of Marilyn Monroe.

Next, visitors were beckoned into a cluster of cubes containing a model of a “city of the future” (which a few landmarks clearly indicated as Seattle) and its suburban and rural surroundings, seen first by day and later by night. The next cluster of cubes zoomed in on a vision of a high-tech, future home in a sylvan setting (and a commuter gyrocopter); a series of projections contrasted this “best of the future” to “the worst of the present” (over-uniform suburbs, a dreary urban housing project).

The May 4, 1962, edition of LIFE magazine depicted the Space Needle and monorail on its cover.
The May 4, 1962, edition of LIFE magazine depicted the Space Needle and monorail on its cover.

The exhibit continued with a vision of future transportation (centered on a monorail and high-speed “air cars” on an electrically controlled highway). There was also an “office of the future”, a climate-controlled “farm factory”, an automated offshore kelp and plankton harvesting farm, a vision of the schools of the future with “electronic storehouses of knowledge”, and a vision of the many recreations that technology would free humans to pursue.

Finally, the tour ended with a symbolic sculptural tree and the reappearance of the family in the fallout shelter and the sound of a ticking clock, a brief silence, an extract from President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, followed by a further “symphony of music and color”.

General Motors exhibit featuring the Firebird III at Century 21 Exposition (World's Fair), Seattle, Washington. Photo taken on April 20, 1962.
General Motors exhibit featuring the Firebird III at Century 21 Exposition (World’s Fair), Seattle, Washington. Photo taken on April 20, 1962.

Under the same roof, the ALA exhibited a “library of the future” (centered on a Univac computer). General Motors exhibited its vision for highways and vehicles of the future (the latter including the Firebird III). Pan Am exhibited a giant globe that emphasized the notion that we had come to be able to think of distances between major world cities in hours and minutes rather than in terms of chancy voyages over great distances. RCA (which produced “The Threshold and the Threat”) exhibited television, radio, and stereo technology, as well as its involvement in space. The French government had an exhibit with its own take on technological progress. Finally, a Washington state tourist center provided information for fair-goers wishing to tour the state.

World of Commerce and Industry

The World of Commerce and Industry was divided into domestic and foreign areas. The former was sited mainly south of American Way (the continuation of Thomas Street through the grounds), an area it shared with the World of Science. It included the Space Needle and what is now the Broad Street Green and Mural Amphitheater. The Hall of Industry and some smaller buildings were immediately north of American Way. The latter included 15 governmental exhibitors and surrounded the World of Tomorrow and extended to the north edge of the fair.

 Pavilion of Electric Power at Century 21 Exposition (Seattle World's Fair), 1962.
Pavilion of Electric Power at Century 21 Exposition (Seattle World’s Fair), 1962.

Among the features of Domestic Commerce and Industry, the massive Interiors, Fashion, and Commerce Building spread for 500 feet (150 m) — nearly the entire Broad Street side of the grounds — with exhibits ranging from 32 separate furniture companies to the Encyclopædia Britannica. Vogue produced four fashion shows daily alongside a perfumed pool . The Ford Motor Company, in its pavilion, presented a simulated space flight and its vision for the car of the future, the Ford Seattle-ite XXI. The Electric Power Pavilion included a 40 feet (12 m)-high fountain made to look like a hydroelectric dam, with the entrance to the pavilion through a tunnel in said “dam”. The Forest Products Pavilion was surrounded by a grove of trees of various species, and included an all-wood theater. Standard Oil of California celebrated, among other things, the fact that the world’s first service station opened in Seattle in 1907. The fair’s Bell Telephone (now AT&T Inc.) exhibit was featured in a short film called “Century 21 Calling…”, which was later shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were also several religious pavilions. Near the center of all this was Seattle artist Paul Horiuchi’s massive mosaic mural, the region’s largest work of art at the time, which now forms the backdrop of Seattle Center’s Mural Amphitheater.

Canada Building at Century 21 Exposition, Seattle, Washington, 1962. This is now part of the Northwest Court of Seattle Center. The DuPen Fountain in the foreground is still there, although it has been somewhat reconfigured.
Canada Building at Century 21 Exposition, Seattle, Washington, 1962. This is now part of the Northwest Court of Seattle Center. The DuPen Fountain in the foreground is still there, although it has been somewhat reconfigured.

Foreign exhibits included a science and technology exhibit by Great Britain, while Mexico and Peru focused on handicrafts, and Japan and India attempted to show both of these sides of their national cultures. The Taiwan and South Korea pavilions showed their rapid industrialization to the world and the benefits of capitalism over communism during the time of cold war era. Other pavilions included one featuring Brazilian tea and coffee; a European Communities Pavilion from the then six countries of the European Economic Community; and a joint pavilion by those countries of Africa that had by then achieved independence. Sweden’s exhibit included the story of the salvaging of a 17th-century man-of-war from Stockholm harbor, and San Marino’s exhibit featured its postage stamps and pottery. Near the center of this was the DuPen Fountain featuring three sculptures by Seattle artist Everett DuPen.

World of Art

The Fine Arts Pavilion (later the Exhibition Hall) brought together an art exhibition unprecedented for the West Coast of the United States. Among the 50 contemporary American painters whose works shown were Josef Albers, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston, Jasper Johns, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Ben Shahn, and Frank Stella, as well as Northwest painters Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, Paul Horiuchi, and Mark Tobey. American sculptors included Leonard Baskin, Alexander Calder, Joseph Cornell, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, and 19 others. The 50 international contemporary artists represented included the likes of painters Fritz Hundertwasser, Joan Miró, Antoni Tàpies, and Francis Bacon, and sculptors Henry Moore and Jean Arp. In addition, there were exhibitions of Mark Tobey’s paintings and of Asian art, drawn from the collections of the Seattle Art Museum; and an additional exhibition of 72 “masterpieces” ranging from Titian, El Greco, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Rubens through Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, and Turner to Klee, Braque, and Picasso, with no shortage of other comparably famous artists represented.

A separate gallery presented Northwest Coast Indian art, and featured a series of large paintings by Bill Holm introducing Northwest Native motifs.

Trade dollar token used at the Seattle World's Fair, 1962.
Trade dollar token used at the Seattle World’s Fair, 1962.
World Of Entertainment

A US $15 million performing-arts program at the fair ranged from a boxing championship to an international twirling competition but with no shortage of nationally and internationally famous performers, especially at the new Opera House and Playhouse. After the fair, the Playhouse became the Seattle Repertory Theatre; in the mid-1980s it became the Intiman Playhouse. When the Intiman Theatre closed, Cornish College of the Arts took over the lease from the city of Seattle, and now operates it as the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center.

Events and performances at the Playhouse included Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre; a chamber music performance by Isaac Stern, Milton Katims, Leonard Rose, Eugene Istomin, and the Juilliard String Quartet; two appearances by newsman Edward R. Murrow; Bunraku theater; Richard Dyer-Bennet; Hal Holbrook’s solo show as Mark Twain; the Count Basie and Benny Goodman jazz orchestras; Lawrence Welk; Nat King Cole; and Ella Fitzgerald. Also during the fair, Memorial Stadium hosted the Ringling Brothers Circus, Tommy Bartlett’s Water Ski Sky and Stage Show, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ Western Show, and an appearance by evangelist Billy Graham.

The fair and the city were the setting of the Elvis Presley movie It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), with a young Kurt Russell making his first screen appearance. Location shooting began on September 4 and concluded nearly two weeks later. The film would be released the following spring, long after the fair had ended.

Show Street

At the northeast corner of the grounds (now the KCTS-TV studios), Show Street was the “adult entertainment” portion of the fair. Attractions included Gracie Hansen’s Paradise International (a Vegas-style floor show (rivalled next door by LeRoy Prinz’s “Backstage USA”), Sid and Marty Krofft’s adults-only puppet show, Les Poupées de Paris, and (briefly, until it was shut down) a show featuring naked “Girls of the Galaxy”. Tamer entertainment came in forms such as the Paris Spectacular wax museum, an elaborate Japanese Village, and the Hawaiian Pavilion.

Order form for Seattle World's Fair admission tickets.
Order form for Seattle World’s Fair admission tickets.

The Gayway was a small amusement park; after the fair it became the Fun Forest. In 2011, the Fun Forest was shut down and the Chihuly Garden and Glass opened in its place.

Boulevards of the World

Boulevards of the World was “the shopping center of the fair”. It also included the Plaza of the States and the original version of the International Fountain.

Exhibit Fair

The Exhibit Fair provided another shopping district under the north stands of Memorial Stadium.

Food and Favors

“Food and Favors”, officially one of the “areas” of the fair, simply encompassed the various restaurants, food stands, etc., scattered throughout the grounds. These ranged from vending machines and food stands to the Eye of the Needle (atop the Space Needle) and the private Century 21 Club.

Food Circus

The Food Circus was a food court in the former armory, later named the Center House, and recently renamed The Armory (2012) as a remodel of the building continues. Unlike the current arrangement with a stage and a large open space for dancing, events, and temporary booths, many food booths were in the middle of the room as well as at the edges. There were 52 concessionaires in all, nine of them with exhibits in addition to their food for sale. Beginning in 1963, the Food Circus also housed a variety of museums, including Jones’ Fantastic Show, the Jules Charbneau World of Miniatures, and the Pullen Klondike Museum.

United States - Scott #1196 (1962) first day cover with cachet by the Collectors Club of Seattle.
United States – Scott #1196 (1962) first day cover with cachet by the Collectors Club of Seattle.

Scott #1196, the 4-cent Seattle World’s Fair commemorative stamp was issued on April 25, 1962, through the Seattle, Washington, post office. Designed by John Maass, the stamp features an image of the Space Needle and the Monorail. This stamp was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the Giori press and issued in panes of fifty stamps each. A total of 147,310,000 red and dark blue stamps were printed, perforated 11.

Once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River, the Space Needle is 605 feet (184 m) high, 138 feet (42 m) wide, and weighs 9,550 short tons (8,660 tonnes). It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour (89 m/s; 320 km/h) and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude, as strong as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. It also has 25 lightning rods.

The Space Needle has an observation deck at 520 feet (160 m) and the rotating SkyCity restaurant at 500 feet (150 m). The downtown Seattle skyline, as well as the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Elliott Bay and surrounding islands can be viewed from the top of the Needle. Photographs of the Seattle skyline often show the Space Needle prominently, above skyscrapers and Mount Rainier.

Visitors can reach the top of the Space Needle by elevators that travel at 10 miles per hour (4.5 m/s; 16 km/h). The trip takes 41 seconds. On windy days, the elevators slow to 5 miles per hour (2.2 m/s; 8.0 km/h). On April 19, 1999, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board designated it a historic landmark.

In September 2017, the restaurant was temporarily closed as part of a US$100 million renovation, currently scheduled for completion in May 2018. The renovation includes the installation of a new rotation motor and see-through glass floors in the restaurant, as well as the replacement of the observation deck’s wire enclosure with glass panels. The observation deck will remain open for the duration of the project.

Poster for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair

Edward F. 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 the Northgate Mall in Seattle, soon became involved. Graham’s first move was to alter the restaurant featured in the plans to a revolving restaurant, in the same manner as on a tower (La Ronde) he had previously designed for the Ala Moana Shopping Center.

The proposed Space Needle had no land where they could build. 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 a site 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.

The architecture of the Space Needle is the result of a compromise between the designs of two men, Edward E. Carlson and John Graham, Jr. The two leading ideas for the World Fair involved businessman Edward E. 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. 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 Space Needle was built to withstand wind speeds of 200 miles per hour (322 km/h), double the requirements in the building code of 1962. The 6.8 Mw Nisqually earthquake jolted the Needle enough in 2001 for water to slosh out of the toilets in the restrooms. The Space Needle will not sustain 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.

View from the base of the Space Needle in 2007.
View from the base of the Space Needle in 2007.

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), the same as the above-ground structure. 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 domed top, 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.

The revolving restaurant was operated by Western International Hotels, of which Carlson was President, under a 20-year contract from April 1, 1962 to April 1, 1982.

An imitation carillon (a multi-bell musical device) was installed in the Space Needle, and played several times a day during the World’s Fair. The instrument, built by the Schulmerich Bells Company of Hatfield, Pennsylvania under the name “Carillon Americana,” recreated the sounds of 538 bells and was the largest in the world, until eclipsed by a 732 bell instrument at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. 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 forty-four stentors (speakers) of the carillon were located underneath the Needle’s disc at the 200 foot level, and were audible over the entire fairgrounds and up to ten miles away. The carillon was disassembled after the fair’s close.

The carillon bells were featured on an LP record called Bells On Hi-Fi (catalog number AR-8, produced by Americana Records, of Sellersville, Pennsylvania). There are 12 pieces recorded on the “Carillon Americana” before it was installed in the Space Needle, performed by noted carilloneur John Klein.

The Space Needle with Mount Rainier in the background. Photo taken on September 26, 2006.
The Space Needle with Mount Rainier in the background. Photo taken on September 26, 2006.

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 has since become a fixture of Seattle. It even became the mascot of the Seattle SuperSonics National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise, who played in nearby KeyArena. The SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City on July 3, 2008.

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.

On December 31, 1999, a powerful beam of light was unveiled for the first time. Called the Legacy Light or Skybeam, it is powered by lamps that total 85 million candela shining skyward from the top of the Space Needle to honor national holidays and special occasions in Seattle. The concept of this beam was derived from the official 1962 World’s Fair poster, which depicted such a light source although none was incorporated into the original design. It is somewhat controversial because of the light pollution it creates. Originally planned to be turned on 75 nights per year, it has generally been used fewer than a dozen times per year. It did remain lit for eleven days in a row from September 11, 2001, to September 22, 2001, in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

For decades, the hovering disk of the Space Needle was home to two restaurants 500 feet (150 m) above the ground: the Space Needle Restaurant, which was originally named Eye of the Needle, and Emerald Suite. These were closed in 2000 to make way for SkyCity, a larger restaurant that features Pacific Northwest cuisine. It rotates 360 degrees in exactly forty-seven minutes. In 1993, the elevators were replaced with new computerized versions. The new elevators descend at a rate of 10 miles per hour (4.5 m/s).

The Space Needle at night. Photo taken on June 7, 2015.
The Space Needle at night. Photo taken on June 7, 2015.

Renovations were completed in 2000 that cost approximately the same as the original construction price ($21 million in current currency). Renovations between 1999 and 2000 included the SkyCity restaurant, SpaceBase retail store, Skybeam installation, Observation Deck overhaul, lighting additions and repainting. A 1962 Seattle World’s Fair poster showed a grand spiral entryway leading to the elevator that was ultimately omitted from final building plans. The stairway was eventually added as part of the Pavilion and Spacebase remodel in June 2000. The main stairwell has 848 steps from the basement to the top of the observation deck.

Every year on New Year’s Eve, the Space Needle celebrates with a fireworks show at midnight that is synchronized to music. The worldwide renowned fireworks artist from Bellevue, Alberto Navarro has been designing the show for the past 20 year since its inception in 1994. In 2000, public celebrations were canceled but the fireworks show was still performed because of perceived terror threats against the structure after investigations into the foiled millennium bombing plots.

On May 19, 2007, the Space Needle welcomed its 45 millionth visitor, Greg Novoa of San Francisco. He received a free trip for two to Paris, which included a VIP dinner at the Eiffel Tower.

In May 2008, the Space Needle received its first professional cleaning since the opening of the 1962 World’s Fair. The monument was pressure washed by Kärcher with water at a pressure of 20,000 kilopascals (2,900 psi) and a temperature of 90 °C (194 °F). No detergents were used in consideration of the Seattle Center and the EMP building.

The Space Needle photographed on September 2, 2007.
The Space Needle photographed on September 2, 2007.

As part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary, the Needle was painted “Galaxy Gold” in April 2012, the same color used when the needle was originally constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair. This temporary makeover, intended to last through the summer, is not the Needle’s first: it had the University of Washington (UW) Huskies football team logo painted on after the team won the 1992 Rose Bowl, appeared as a giant “Wheel of Fortune” in 1995, was painted crimson after Washington State won the Apple Cup, and has been seen in Seattle SuperSonics colors.

A renovation of the top of the Space Needle was begun in the summer of 2017, to add an all-glass floor to the restaurant, and replace the observation platform windows with unbroken floor-to-ceiling glass panels unobstructed by mullions to more closely match the 1962 original concept sketches, as well as various upgrades and updates to the internal systems. Called the Century Project, the work is scheduled to finish by June 2018, at a cost of $100 million in private funds. The rotating restaurant’s motor will be replaced, and the elevator capacity will be increased by adding elevators, or double-stacking them, and the energy efficiency of the building will be improved with the aim of achieving LEED Silver Certification. The temporary scaffold’s 28,000-pound (13,000 kg), 44,650-square-foot (4,148 m²) platform under the top structure was assembled on the ground, and then lifted by cables 500 feet (150 m) from the ground to the underside of the structure, controlled by 12 operators standing on the platform as it was raised. The platform is the largest in circumference ever made by Safway Services, a company specializing in unique construction scaffolding.

Unlike many other similar structures, such as the CN Tower in Toronto, the Space Needle is not used for broadcasting purposes.

United States - Scott #1196 (1962) on cover posted from the Space Needle postal station with a cachet depicting the Monorail.
United States – Scott #1196 (1962) on cover posted from the Space Needle postal station with a cachet depicting the Monorail.

The monorail, which cost $3.5 million to build, opened on March 24, 1962. Eight million people rode the monorail during the half year the fair was open; today, annual ridership is around 2 million. The line and its trains were built by Alweg Rapid Transit Systems. The line consists of two parallel tracks with one train riding each track. The fleet consists of two trains constructed by Alweg in 1961. These original trains are still in service and have served the line since its opening.

Originally, the south end of the line was a large station over Pine Street at Westlake Avenue that formed a lid over the street and a portion of what is now Westlake Park. In 1988, the station was moved north a block with the construction of the Westlake Center shopping mall on what had been the right-of-way of Westlake Avenue.

Seattle's original Westlake monorail station/terminal, 1963. The site is now reconfigured, with Westlake Center mall and Westlake Park. The station spanned over Pine Street.
Seattle’s original Westlake monorail station/terminal, 1963. The site is now reconfigured, with Westlake Center mall and Westlake Park. The station spanned over Pine Street.

Today, The monorail operates along Fifth Avenue between Seattle Center in Lower Queen Anne and Westlake Center in Downtown. Seattle Center Monorail is a public transit route with a top speed of 45 mph (72 km/h). Owned by the City of Seattle, the line has been operated by private contractor Seattle Monorail Services since 1994. It was given historical landmark status by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board April 16, 2003.

The Westlake station of the monorail has an elevator down to the Westlake Station of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, a stop for the Central Link light rail line, and major Metro bus lines. Westlake Center is also near the southern terminus of the South Lake Union Streetcar and numerous surface bus routes. At the northern end of the line, the Museum of Pop Culture building was designed so that the monorail passes through it on its way to the terminal.

Flag of the State of WashingtonFlag of SeattleCentury 21 Exposition logoSeattle Center Monorail logoSpace Needle, Seattle

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