Smith Tower – Seattle’s Gothic Skyscraper

In Seattle the most iconic structure is the Space Needle, the tallest is the Columbia Center (76 floors) but for me the most interesting is the Smith Tower. An old school 42 floor skyscraper with a pyramid shaped gothic tower.

Space Needle Smith Tower Seattle
Space Needle, Smith Tower & Columbia Center
Smith Tower Seattle
Smith Tower

Construction of the Smith Tower started in 1910 and it opened in 1914. The tower was built by Lyman Smith of the Smith family of New York who owned the Smith Corona Typewriter Company (he unfortunately passed away before it was completed).

The Smith Tower was then the fourth tallest building in the world and the tallest West of the Mississippi river. This record was taken by the Space Needle in 1962, then the Columbia Center in 1985 but since 1989 this record is now held by the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles.

For me the Smith Tower has so many unique features that give it a special character that buildings of today just cannot offer. As you enter the foyer you are immediately greeted with an amazing looking onyx and marble panelled lobby that is watched over by 22 Indian heads! The elaborate brass elevator doors open and you enter the original caged elevators that are the last manually operated ones on the West Coast.

Smith Tower Seattle
Onyx & marble foyer

Smith Tower Seattle

Apart from predominately being an office building, on the 35th floor the tower also has the fascinating Chinese Room. The room was the crown jewel of the building with an intricately carved wood and porcelain ceiling and carved blackwood furniture that were gifts from the Empress of China. Today it has changed somewhat but is still quite impressive. 

The Chinese Room in years gone by
Chinese Room Smith Tower Seattle
The Chinese Room today

The Chinese Room serves as the foyer for a fantastic outdoor observation deck. This is where you can take in some of the best views of downtown Seattle, the surrounding mountains (especially Mt. Ranier and the Olympic Mountains) and Elliot Bay.

The one sad thing for the Smith Tower is that currently it has very low occupancy (as you go up the elevator you can see that many floors are empty), but one of the tenants there has probably the most unusual residence in Seattle. In the pyramid roof of the gothic tower is a penthouse apartment, the only residence in the building. The 37th floor originally housed a caretaker’s apartment, which had a massive multi-story 10,000-gallon water tank above it. The water tank was removed by being cut into small pieces and taken away via the elevators, then the entire space was remodelled into the penthouse apartment. The current leaseholder of the apartment is a business woman and her family.

Smith Tower Penthouse (source: NY Times)
Smith Tower Seattle
The pyramid

2 Comments Add yours

  1. What a wonderful bit of research on a fascinating building. Thanks for posting this.
    Greetings from north of the Arctic Circle.

    1. Deano says:

      Thanks for taking a look. Its a great building!

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