“The pinnacle of Seattle”
Smith Tower was hailed as one of the tallest office buildings in the world outside New York City at the time of construction and remained the tallest building on the West Coast for almost 50 years. To an unsophisticated nation just being introduced to such 20th-century wonders as aspirin, crossword puzzles and neon signs, the newly minted skyscraper was another favorite of the Sunday supplements. The Syracuse, NY architectural firm of Gaggin & Gaggin, boldly rising above the fact that it had never designed a structure higher than a few floors, created plans for one of the world’s earliest skyscrapers. It was to have a 21-story tower rising from a main 21-story structure, topped by a pyramid-shaped Gothic cap, a design influenced by the circa-1909 Metropolitan Life Tower young Smith had admired. With construction beginning less than 25 years after the Great Seattle Fire, little wood was used in the construction of the Smith Tower. The E.E. Davis Company of Seattle erected the steel frame of the building using 7,970,000 lbs of steel. Window frames and sashes were fashioned of bronze. Doors were steel, hand-finished to resemble highly-grained mahogany. The crown jewel of the Smith Tower is the legendary 35th-floor Chinese Room and Observation Deck. The room’s name derives from the carved teak ceiling and the carved Blackwood furniture that have adorned the room since its opening in 1914. Legend has it that the room was furnished by the last Empress of China as a gift to Mr. Smith. These furnishings include the famed Wishing Chair. The chair incorporates a carved dragon and a phoenix, which, when combined, portends marriage. Hence the chair came with the legend that any wishful unmarried woman who sits in it would be married within a year. Although L.C. Smith did not live to see his tower completed, his son was there opening day, July 3, 1914, when nearly 1,500 people were carried to the Observation Deck from 1:30 to 10:00pm. This included the visiting Vice-Admiral Teijiro Kuroi, commanding officer of the Japanese training squadron, which dropped anchor in Elliott Bay on June 27 for a ten-day sojourn. Kuroi was so impressed with Seattle that he would not be content until he had visited the top of the L.C. Smith Building, and so special arrangements were made by Mayor Gill for his visit. On July 4, 1914 the Observation Deck was opened to the general public with great crowds forming at the building shortly after 9:00am. Over 4,000 people rode the elevators to the top that day, paying $0.25 in admission to enjoy the views. Today Smith Tower remains an office building and is home to companies from a wide range of industries, including tech, law, marketing, and more. The Chinese Room & Observation Deck are still open daily from 10:00am to dusk and can also be rented out for private events.
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