The Seattle Space Needle is one of those icons that you’d think would hardly need more than a fresh coat of paint now and then. After all, why mess with a classic? At least that’s what I thought.
I’m here to admit that I was wrong. After its latest $100 million renovation, the Space Needle is better than ever.
The Space Needle: Stunning & Sturdy
Built for the 1962 World’s Fair–the theme was “The Age of Space”–the 605-foot high structure featured a saucer-shaped “top house” at the 520-foot mark. It cost $1 to ride up to get Seattle’s only 360 degree view: Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound, and the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges.
Funding for the project was private, and challenged by finding an affordable plot of land on the fairgrounds. Prospects were looking dim, until a 120 square foot property, a former fire house, was located. Investors bought it for $75,000 in 1961.
Construction began in April 1961, only a year before the fair was scheduled to open. Architects insisted that the foundation be 30 feet deep and the entire 120 feet across. For one full day, 467 trucks delivered a continuous stream of concrete..the foundation weighed as much as the Space Needle structure, with the center of gravity just five feet above ground.
Eight months later, the final coats of paint were applied: “Astronaut White” for the legs, “Orbital Olive” for the core of the structure, “Re-entry Red” for the Halo and “Galaxy Gold” for the sunburst and pagoda roof. The Seattle Space Needle was designed to withstand 200 mph winds and earthquakes registering 9.0 on the Richter scale.
The initial cost was $4.5 million. Nearly 20,000 people a day rode the elevators. I say “nearly” because on one day, only 50 more people were needed to reach the magic 20,000 mark.
If you want to get an idea of what the 1962 World’s Fair looked like (and how people dressed, gloves and all) rent “It Happened At the World’s Fair,” starring Elvis Presley. The plot is thin–Elvis is a singing crop-duster pilot–but the fairgrounds and many of the original structures from the movie are still in place. It’s called Seattle Center now.
The Space Needle was a hit from its “launch.” Today, it remains the symbol for Seattle, just as the Eiffel Tower means Paris and Big Ben stands for London.
View from the top in 2009…
When my grandchildren visited in 2009, we went to the Space Needle. We rode the elevator up and stepped out into the fresh air. Wires encircled the outer deck, keeping us safe. Leaving the interior, with its glass panes, felt like we were doing something very, very brave.
We were lucky that early spring day, there was mild weather. (No, it does not constantly rain. Although Seattleites love for you to think that, so you won’t be tempted to move there.)
Saedy and Payton used the telescopes that were stationed around the perimeter. That was the extent of exterior features; we didn’t know any better. Plus we were happy: Mt. Rainier was visible. Or, as the locals simply say, “The Mountain is out.”
Indoors, there were interactive maps of the area. The kids liked those, using knobs to zoom in and out on the screens, and eventually identifying landmarks we’d seen. I recall a cheap snack bar on the observation level. Everything that day was absolutely adequate. We had a great time!
Read “Turning Kids Into Travelers” for tips on how to develop wanderlust and a sense of curiosity in children.
…and then 10 years later: WOW!
Although the Space Needle structure was solid, and there had been a $20 million update in 2000, including observation deck improvements and addition of the SpaceBase gift shop, its glamour had faded.
The city agreed. In 2017, the big renovation began. Called “The Century Project,” the Space Needle was going to return to the original design sketches, plus strip away unnecessary barriers, showing its internal workings.
In 2017, the big renovation began. Called “The Century Project,” the Space Needle was going to return to the original design sketches, plus strip away unnecessary barriers, showing its internal workings.
The Needle remained open during the renovation (although the restaurant was closed for awhile) as views were expanded and glass replaced solid walls and floors.
Now there are two viewing areas at the top: The outdoor observation level with glass partitions (and glass benches) and a lower level, connected by the Oculus Stairs. The lower level is called The Loupe–the world’s first-and-only rotating glass floor. It takes getting used to, like walking out onto an invisible ledge.
Guests are now surrounded by two breathtaking, multi-level, floor-to-ceiling glass viewing experiences including an outdoor observation level with open-air glass walls and Skyriser glass benches. The upper observation level is now connected by the Oculus Stairs to The Loupe, the world’s first, and only, rotating glass floor below.
It’s impossible to rush through this experience. I went up and down the stairs several times, walking the entire way around. Tickets are timed-entry, but once you’re at the observation decks, stay as long as you like. I recommend a couple of hours.
The full-service (and likely to be pricey) restaurant isn’t open yet. Atmos Café is on the upper observation level and serves Northwest food, as well as local beer and wine.
Atmos Wine Bar features “Sunset At the Top Experience” that includes a flight of Pacific Northwest wines, paired with small plates. The bar also has cheese boards and charcuterie.
If you go:
Tickets are timed-entry. Save $5 by going between 10 am and noon.
SPACE NEEDLE GENERAL ADMISSION
|Regular||$32.50 – $37.50|
|Senior (ages 65+)||$27.50 – $32.50|
|Youth (ages 5-12)||$24.50 – $28.50|
The Seattle Space Needle sits next to Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibition–and there’s a combo ticket that lets you see both–for less. Be aware: You have to visit both the same day.
SPACE NEEDLE + CHIHULY GARDEN AND GLASS
Bundle and save up to $10 when you visit Seattle’s top two attractions
|Regular||$59 / $54|
|Senior (ages 65+)||$49 / $46|
|Youth (ages 5-12)||$39 / $38|
The Seattle Space Needle is open 365 days a year
Monday – Thursday: 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Friday – Sunday: 9:00 AM – 7 PM
*Last entry 30 minutes prior to the above closing times.
NOTE: If you’re getting the Combo ticket, check the Chihuly Garden and Glass website. Sometimes it closes–or closes early–for private events.