Best Places

Space Needle

Written by Sudhir Kumar

The 605 foot (184 meter) Space Needle was envisioned by Edward E. Carlson, who was president of Western International Hotels. Carlson’s sketch became an icon for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, and after many adaptations, architect John Graham and his team of architects transformed the balloon-topped tower that Carlson sketched into the saucer-topped tower we see today.Massive steel beams form the slender legs and upper body of the Seattle Space Needle. The Space Needle is designed to withstand a wind velocity of 200 miles per hour, but storms occasionally force the facility to close. Several earth tremors have caused the Needle to sway. However, the original designers doubled the 1962 building code requirements, enabling the Space Needle to withstand even greater jolts.The Space Needle was completed in December 1961, and officially opened four months later on the first day of the World’s Fair, April 21, 1962. The Space Needle has been extensively renovated. Nearly every aspect of the 1962 World’s Fair centerpiece has been or is being updated, including the entry level, restaurant, and Observation Deck, all the way down to the grounds surrounding the attraction.

Erected in Record Time

Construction began on April 17, 1961. Laying the foundation entailed the largest continuous concrete pour yet attempted on the West Coast — 5,850 tons delivered by 467 trucks over 12 hours. The steel tower itself weighs 3,700 tons and its legs are anchored to the earth by 74 32-foot-long bolts. Eight hundred thirty-two steps lead from the base to the top house, but most people prefer to take one of the three elevators.Workers topped off the structure on December 8, 1961, and the restaurant hosted a special gala on March 24, 1962, a little less than a month before the Fair opened. Total development and construction cost $4.5 million.The Space Needle’s scale and novel shape were originally accented with a garish paint scheme, including “Orbital Olive,” “Re-entry Red,” and “Galaxy Gold.” During the Fair, the tower’s base housed an exhibit devoted to “Dentistry Through the Ages of Man,” and the top house peak blazed at night with a giant natural gas torch. The original restaurant was dubbed “The Eye of the Needle.” Its dining floor to this day (1999) completes a full revolution every 58 minutes, powered by a 1.5 h.p. electric motor.

Movies, Stunts, and a Streaker

Initially, this polychrome pylon had its critics, but Seattle — and the world — quickly adopted it as the city’s unofficial symbol. Besides gracing countless snapshots and home videos, the Needle has been featured in three major commercial motion pictures: It Happened at the World’s Fair, (1964) with Elvis Presley; The Paralax View, (1974) with Warren Beatty; and Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me,(1999) with Mike Myers.Seattle’s village lingam has provided a prop for numerous stunts, including high wire acts and parachute jumps. Students from Tolt High School chewed $150 worth of gum to create a chain of 14,986 wrappers, which they dangled from the Needle on November 20, 1965 Hill station in USA. Artist-historian Paul Dorpat suspended a 250-foot “Universal Worm” from the tower in October 1971, and artist Alan Lande lit it up as a flying saucer for a science fiction festival in 1978. On June 14, 1974, at the height of the “streaking” craze, a naked man dangled from a small plane as it circled the Space Needle’s restaurant level.The Needle withstood without damage the Columbus Day windstorm of 1962 and the 1965 earthquake. Except for three suicides who leapt to their deaths from the Needle’s Observation Level, to date (1999) no worker or visitor has been killed or seriously injured in the tower.

Legacy Light

The Space Needle’s Legacy Light was first illuminated on New Year’s Eve 1999/2000, and has been shown on major national holidays. A beam of light that shines skyward from the top of the Space Needle, the Legacy Light honors national holidays and commemorates special occasions in Seattle. The Legacy Light is based on the original concept of a beam of light shining atop the Space Needle, as depicted in the official 1962 World’s Fair poster. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Space Needle is a Awesome Place For Vacations.

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Sudhir Kumar

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