Smith Tower

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Smith Tower
SmithTower Seattle WA USA2.jpg
Smith Tower as seen from the Pacific Building.
Alternative names L.C. Smith Building
General information
Type Commercial offices
Location 506 Second Avenue
Pioneer Square
Seattle, Washington
Coordinates Coordinates: Unknown argument format
Construction started 1910
Completed 1914
Cost US$1.5 million
Owner Unico Properties
Antenna spire 149 m (489 ft)
Roof 141 m (463 ft)
Technical details
Floor count 38[1]
Floor area 28,275 m2 (304,350 sq ft)
Lifts/elevators 8
Design and construction
Architect Gaggin & Gaggin
Main contractor E.E. Davis Company
Designated March 11, 1987[2]

Smith Tower is a skyscraper in Pioneer Square in Seattle, Washington. Completed in 1914, the 38-story, 149 m (489 ft) tower is the oldest skyscraper in the city and was the tallest office building west of the Mississippi River until the Kansas City Power & Light Building was built in 1931. It remained the tallest building on the West Coast until the Space Needle overtook it in 1962.[8]

Smith Tower is named after its builder, firearm and typewriter magnate Lyman Cornelius Smith, and is a designated Seattle landmark.[9]


File:Seattle - Smith Tower under construction - 1913.jpg
Smith Tower construction, February 1913

In 1909, Smith planned to build a 14-story building in Seattle. His son, Burns Lyman Smith, convinced him to build instead a much taller skyscraper to steal the crown from rival city Tacoma's National Realty Building as the tallest west of the Mississippi. Construction began in 1910. Although Smith did not live to see it, the building was completed in 1914 to a height of 143 m (469 ft) from curbside to the top of the pyramid,[10] with a pinnacle height of 149 m (489 ft).[5] Its ribbon cutting was July 3, 1914. Ivar Haglund of Ivar's restaurant fame bought the tower for $1.8 million in 1976. The Samis Foundation acquired the tower in 1996. In 2006, the building was purchased by Walton Street Capital. The building has been renovated twice, in 1986 and in 1999.

In recent years high-tech companies have been occupants of Smith Tower, which sports fiber-optic wiring. The burst of the dot-com bubble hurt Smith Tower by raising its vacancy rate to 26.1 percent, twice Seattle's commercial vacancy rate, as of December 21, 2001. The Walt Disney Internet Group, for example, at the time reduced its seven floors to four. By 2007, the occupancy rate had rebounded to about 90 percent, with new occupants such as Microsoft Live Labs.[11]

Following the announced departure of the building's two largest occupants that included Disney, which moved to the Fourth and Madison Building, Walton Street Capital filed an application to convert the building into condominiums.[12] This has not come to fruition because of weak demand for condos.[13]

In 2011 CBRE Group reported that they had purchased a 2006 42.5 million dollar mortgage in default on the Smith Tower. The loan was taken out by current owner Walton Street. When CBRE stepped in, the building was 70 percent vacant, its rent income was not covering its operating expenses, and its value was assessed by the county to be less than half of its 2006 mortgage.[13][14] Smith Tower was sold to CBRE at a public foreclosure auction on March 23, 2012.[7]

In the spring of 2012 Smith Tower experienced a brief revitalization in the form of new companies moving into some of its empty floors including Portent, Inc., an internet marketing company, marketing consultant Aukema & Associates, graphic-design firm Push Design, and Rialto Communications, a marketing and public-relations company. [15]

That same year, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard paid tribute to the Smith Tower in the song "Teardrop Windows."[16][17]


View looking north from the observation deck, August 2007

Smith Tower is an example of neoclassical architecture. Its outer skin is granite on the first and second floors, and terracotta on the rest. The exterior has been washed only once, in 1976, because it remains remarkably clean without regular washing.

The building is one of the last on the West Coast to employ elevator operators. The Otis Elevator Company provided the elevators, which have 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, which also has a wraparound public observation deck.[18] The furniture and the hand-carved ceiling were gifts from the Empress of China, Cixi.[19] 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 1990s, workers removed the 10,000-US-gallon (38,000 L) 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.[20]

The tower includes a fallout shelter that can be seen from the entrance hall.

The building is crowned by an 8-foot-wide (2.4 m) glass dome illuminated by blue light, except during December when it is changed to green.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Smith Tower at CTBUH Skyscraper Database
  2. "Landmarks and Designation". City of Seattle. Retrieved 2013-03-05. 
  3. Smith Tower at Emporis
  4. Smith Tower at Glass Steel and Stone
  5. 5.0 5.1 Smith Tower at SkyscraperPage
  6. Smith Tower at StructuraeLua error in Module:WikidataCheck at line 22: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  7. 7.0 7.1 Pryne, Eric (March 23, 2012). "Smith Tower gets new owner". Seattle Times. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  8. Woodridge, Sally B.; Roger Montgomery (1980). A Guide to Architecture in Washington State. University of Washington Press. p. 116. ISBN 0-295-95779-4. 
  9. Department of Neighborhoods (2011). "Individual Landmarks Alphabetical Listing for S". City of Seattle. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  10. "Seadragon maintains startup atmosphere even after Microsoft acquisition". 
  11. Cohen, Aubrey (February 22, 2007). "Smith Tower applies to convert from offices to condos". Seattle P-I. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  12. 13.0 13.1 Pryne, Eric (January 11, 2012). "Smith Tower foreclosure auction set for March 23". Seattle Times. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  13. Pryne, Eric (October 25, 2011). "Smith Tower owner in default on big loan". Seattle Times. Retrieved October 25, 2011. 
  14. Rami Grunbaum (5 May 2012). "Smith Tower shows signs of life with new owner; McKinstry expands; Yahoo CEO's F5 flap". Retrieved 28 October 2012. 
  17. "Smith Tower Observation Deck". The Chinese Room at Smith Tower. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  18. "Smith, L.C., Tower, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA". Pacific Coast Architecture Database. Retrieved March 21, 2012. 
  19. Tortorello, Michael (October 20, 2010). "Making a Home in a Pyramid, 462 Feet Above Seattle". The New York Times. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 

External links