There’s a new attraction in Seattle. The 102-year-old Smith Tower, a neoclassical high rise that was the tallest office building west of the Mississippi River until the Space Needle was erected for the 1962 World’s Fair, has opened for outsiders. Yesterday Ruth & I did the self-guided, 3-level tour that became available in August, 2016.
The tour’s strength was its nostalgic recreation of a long-gone era, Prohibition and just beyond. Smith Tower’s architects had never built anything higher than 5 stories, so a 38 level skyscraper was quite an accomplishment for them. Because it was only 25 years after the great fire, they had to learn how to make steel look like mahogany. Edwin and Thomas Gaggin never built another skyscraper.
To quickly introduce the past, planners placed a display of ancient office typewriters at the tour’s beginning. The most interesting was an 1887 Smith-Premier NO 1, the first typewriter to include both upper and lower case letters. Beyond this display were a couple of early 20th century offices. Basically, however, Level One is devoted to retail.
The original tenants of Smith Tower were lawyers. One of them was legal counsel to Seattle’s biggest bootlegger, Roy Olmstead. Today, Smith Tower has 33 floors of desirable office space between ground level and a soaring Chinese room. There is also one resident.
Touring visitors walk up a flight of stairs to see a bank of 7 original Otis elevators that still employ operators. The one on the end lifted us to the well named Temperance bar and cafe on the top-level. The two most interesting features of it were an outside walkway that afforded fantastic views of Seattle, including Elliott Bay, downtown, distant mountains, etc. The other feature of note was the wishing chair. Ruth loved sitting in it. The decor of this large cafe/bar has always been Chinese and the chair’s dragon and phoenix decorations portend marriage. Below is the original ceiling.
The guides will not talk about the occupants of Smith Tower, but there’s a 2010 Home and Garden article about them on-line. Petra Franklin Lahaie, an artist, and her family reportedly live in an aerie near the top of Smith. The article is called “Making a Home in The Pyramid”. We also learned that The New York Times has featured this unique residence.
At one point on the tour we came to a place where faux mahogany, Washington granite, and Mexican onyx were seamlessly joined in one view and the tour became a 5 Compass experience. Just after seeing this, Ruth and I had lunch in an attached Irish pub called O’Donnell’s where Ruth brought my attention to an Irish quote, “…. never forget to remember the blessings that visit each day.” Our blessing that day was Smith Tower.