How do you get a seaplane view of Seattle? Well there is the iconic Space Needle of course but there are two lesser known (at least among visitors) opportunities also. One is the Columbia Tower the other is the Smith Tower. I love sailboats and there is a huge difference between stepping on to a majestic old wooden boat and a modern fiberglass one. I get the same shift of feeling whenever I step through the doors of the Smith Tower. Is it the abundance of gleaming copper and bronze, the warmth of ornate polished wood, the tons of marble, onyx and terracotta or the ghosts of the colorful characters that have been visitors over the years?
The building was inspired by Lyman C. Smith founder of the Smith Corona typewriter company. The grand lady was completed July 4th, 1914. His is a cool story. His office was in Syracuse, New York. In the late 1800’s, he heard that a west coast city called Seattle was growing rapidly. Lyman thought that if he were to build an 14 story office building amid the 4 story ones, he could sell a lot of typewriters. His son Burns said, “Dad, if we build a 42 story office building we’ll sell a whole lot more typewriters.” Lyman agreed and when the new building was completed they were able to lay claim to the tallest building west of the Mississippi and the fourth tallest in the world. The building has 2314 bronze encased windows that actually open and 1432 doors. It took 164 rail cars coming from Pittsburgh each hauling 28 tons of steel to complete it.
You could allow as much as an hour for the exhibits on the main floor but eventually you’ll step in to the elevator for the ride to the observation deck. This may be the high point (get it?) of expericeing the Smith Tower. After all, this is one of the original manually operated 1914 Otis elevators. It’s like stepping in to a time machine which moves you up but..back also.
As Washington state residents, we paid $10 for a self- guided tour and access to the observation deck (out side the bar.) The tour starts in the coffee shop. Immediately, there are interesting exhibits chronicling the history of the times and the buildings construction.
Make no mistake. This is a storied building. There’s prohibition, women’s suffrage and world wars it’s seen. What I was particularly surprised to learn though is about the “Submarine Room”. It’s a bar located in the basement that served Seattle’s LGBTQ community during the 1960’s. According to the sign, owner Alberto Roman fought against the systemic police harassment and extortion in Pioneer Square.
The observation deck at the top surrounds the building. It’s always fun to try and identify as many buildings as possible from such a height.
Formerly known as the China Room, the Speakeasy Bar has kept the Chinese furniture and artifacts. This is the “Wishing Chair”. It’s rumored that if a single women sits in it she’ll be married within one year. Hmm, was it coincidence that when we were there, we saw one brides girls party and two bride and groom parties?
It was just past lunchtime when we were there so we decided to eat. There is no full kitchen so the menu is limited but adequate. I was pleased to see that if you enjoy wine or beer only those from Washington state are available. The ambiance is worth its weight in well…bronze.
Eventually, it was time to check out and leave. Wow, look at that bronze cash register that is still in use.
The Smith Tower is in historic Pioneer Square. There are other nearby attractions worth a visit such as the Klondike Goldrush Museum, Waterfall Garden Park and the Wing Luke Asian Art Museum (think Bruce Lee). The Space Needle is the icon and the Columbia Tower is the tallest building but if you want a lasting memory of a building with sheer elegance and majesty don’t miss the Smith Tower..please.
We’re entertainers with years of tour guide experience who love Seattle and want to show it to you. We offer unforgettable1.5 hour sightseeing tours of Seattle by minibus with highlights like Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, Lake Union, and the Space Needle.