When I travel I always like to take a look at the landmarks that make a city instantly recognizable around the world. Some of the more famous ones that spring to mind include the Sydney Opera House (constructed 1959-1973) and Harbour Bridge (1928-1932), Berlins Brandenburg Gate (1788-1791), London’s Big Ben (the tower 1843-1858), the Eiffel Tower in Paris (1887-1889 for the 1889 World’s Fair), the Leaning Tower of Pisa (built in 3 stages between 1173 and 1372!), Romes Colosseum (72-80AD), The Kremlin in Moscow (construction began in the 1320’s but was ongoing until 1851), Beijing’s Forbidden City (1406-1420) and the list could go on! I think these types of places are more than a landmark, they are an icon of the city.
The United States has no shortage of such city icons including New York City’s Statue of Liberty (a gift from France constructed 1876-1886) and Empire State building (102 story building – constructed quickly 1930-1931!), the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles (originally an advertisement for the “Hollywoodland” housing development in 1923), San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (1933-1937), The White House in Washington DC (1792-1800), the St. Louis Gateway Arch (1963-1965), Chicago’s Sears Tower (108 story building, now called the Willis Tower and also the tallest building in the US. 1971-1973) and here in Seattle the Space Needle (1961-1962).
I have been lucky enough to visit all of the places I have mentioned. They are icons that no matter how many times you walk past them, you just can’t stop yourself from taking at least a quick glimpse and admire them. Some you can only look at, others you can enter/climb/take an elevator to an observation deck, others like the Forbidden City you can explore for a whole day.
I was fortunate to be able to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty before 9/11 (climb access has been closed since then) and I also visited an icon that was lost on that sad day, The World Trade Center towers. The 110 story twin towers were constructed between 1968-1973, both were lost in the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001. I will never forget watching the events unfolding on live TV, yet not being able to understand what was really happening, it was just so shocking and unexpected. A day that is etched into history forever for all the wrong reasons.
There is a curious little place at West Seattle’s Alki Beach where you can actually see two city icons from two completely different cities (well sort of)! Statue of Liberty Plaza has a 1/18 scale “Little Sister of Liberty” statue which was originally put in place in 1952 by the Sea Scout and Boy Scout Troops of Seattle, but recast and replaced in 2008 due to corrosion. Between 1948 to 1952 over 200 of these statues were placed in 39 states and 4 territories of America as a symbol of liberty and freedom. Since 9/11 this location has become a place for informal tribute to those lost on that day. If you look back towards Alki Beach and across Elliot Bay you have a view of both the statue and the Space Needle.
One visit to a city icon that really sticks in my mind was at the St. Louis Gateway Arch in 2001, I spent a lot more time than planned there….the elevator temporarily broke down, so myself and a bunch of other tourists spent a couple of hours inside the top of the arch! I can tell you its a long way up (at 630 feet/192 metres the highest man-made monument in the US) and there is not much room up there, not the most ideal place to be stuck!
I first heard about Seattle and the Space Needle when I was a kid in Australia, but it wasnt through normal means such as a book or travel program, it was through an Elvis Presley movie: “It happened at the World’s Fair” (1963)! Apart from being the usual sing along story that most Elvis movies ended up as (except for the 1969 western Charro, where he does not sing on-screen), this movie also showcased the events and buildings of the 1962 World’s Fair held in Seattle (visited by nearly 10 million people). In making this movie Elvis also become somewhat of an attraction at the fair too!
The theme for the 1962 World’s Fair was Century 21, hence the then futuristic space age building designs including the flying saucer like appearance of the Space Needle with its observation deck and revolving restaurant (according to the Space Needle website the final coats of paint were dubbed “Astronaut White” for the legs, “Orbital Olive” for the core, “Re-entry Red” for the halo and “Galaxy Gold” for the sunburst and pagoda roof – shame it isn’t painted that way today) and the construction of the monorail “the future of public transport” (didn’t quite work out that way)! Most of the major structures built for the World’s Fair remain at the Seattle Center and are integral to city tourism and events. The Space Needle is central to this and is by far the most important icon in Seattle.
Apart from the Space Needle not all the buildings look that futuristic today in the 21st century (the Pacific Science Center springs to mind), so it is quite the retro walk back in time! As I said earlier the Space Needle is one of those structures you just can’t help but look at and admire (I live right nearby and see it virtually ever day).
Although the Space Needle is by no means anywhere near as tall as other towers in the world, it is still is quite a structure: 605 feet/184 metres tall (equivalent to a 60 story building), built to withstand 200 mph/322 kph winds and able to handle up to a 9.1 Richter scale earthquake (double the 1962 building code earthquake requirements). Over the years it has withstood several earthquakes including a 6.8 Richter scale in 2001. It was built for $4.5 million in 1962, but in 2000 a refurbishment cost $20 million (how times change)!
I haven’t been up to the top of the needle since 2009 (when I first visited Seattle and knew it was where I wanted to live when I moved to the US in 2011), but I can tell you that on a clear day the observation deck at 520 feet/158 metres provides spectacular 360 degree views of the city, Mount Ranier, The Cascade and Olympic mountains and the Puget Sound. Seattle and it’s surrounds are a beautiful place! Although the entry fee makes it a bit expensive to visit, the views and taking part in a part of local history is well worth it. You can check out current and past webcam views from the observation deck by clicking here.
The “It happened at the World’s Fair” movie trailer states “The Space Needle rocks and the monorail rolls” and almost 50 years later they still do! Next year is going to be a big 50th anniversary for this city icon. It will be fun to see what they come up with to celebrate the occasion! It will be time to go up there again I think!