2nd & Yesler
The Smith Tower was Seattle's first skyscraper built by New York tycoon
named Lyman Cornelius Smith who originally planned to build a 14-story office
building until his son, Burns Lyman Smith, convinced him to build the tallest
office building in the world outside New York City.
A Syracuse N.Y. architectural firm named Gaggin & Gaggin created plans for a
21-story tower rising from a main 21-story structure, topped by a pyramid
shaped Gothic cap,with 540 offices, including 60 in its Gothic Tower, a design
influenced by the circa-1909 Metropolitan Life Building young Smith had
Construction began in 1910 and was completed in 1914.
Window frames and sashes were fashioned of bronze. Doors were steel, hand
The crown jewel of the Smith Tower is the 35th floor Chinese Room. The
room's name derives from the extensive carved wood and porcelain ceiling and
the elaborately carved blackwood furniture that were gifts to Mr. Smith from
the Empress of China.
The observatory’s furnishings include the famed Wishing Chair. The chair,
product of the skill of a Chinese carver and quite likely the skill of an early day
virtuoso publicity man, incorporates a carved dragon and a phoenix, which
when combined, portends marriage.
L.C. Smith did not live to see his $1 million tower completed. But his son was
there on July 3, 1914, with 4,000 Seattle dignitaries and common.
The Smith Tower opened on July 4, 1914. At the time, it was the fourth tallest
building in the world and weighed 48,650 tons. It remained the tallest building
west of the Mississippi River for almost 50 years.
Original period of construction: 1910 to July 4, 1914.
Height: 42 floors. (522 feet from curbside to the top of the tower finial.)
Original square footage: 250,000 square feet of floor space occupying 12,160
square feet of ground space. Originally configured as 540 offices, 6 retail
stores, two telegraph offices, a public telephone station, one Chinese Room,
and an Observation Deck.
•1,500,000 feet of lumber (Washington fir), provided by Seattle Saw Mill Co.
•Steel frame: The E.E. Davis Company of Seattle erected the steel frame of the
building using 7,970,000 pounds of steel and three construction derricks. The
building contains 50 main support columns, the largest of which is 29’6” long
and weighs 13 tons.
•The structural steel was fabricated by the American Bridge Company at a plant
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and shipped to Seattle in 164 railroad cars, each
with an average load of 28 tons.
•Page-McKenney Co. of Seattle provided the 150,000 pounds of electrical wiring
and conduit. If placed end to end the wiring is 75 miles in length. 1 train car was
required to ship the wire; 3 cars for the conduit.
•Outer skin of the building: Washington granite on the first and second floors,
white terra cotta on the remaining floors. The terra cotta skin has been
professionally cleaned only once - in the 1970’s - with a detergent cleanser.
Seattle rain takes care of the rest.
•Interior walls: Constructed of 12” X 12” X 4” brick, covered with two inches of
plaster on both sides. All hallways, bathrooms, and public corridors are
finished with a wainscot of Alaskan marble.
•Elevators were provided by the Otis Elevator Company of New York. Six of the
7 elevators remaining in the building are still powered by their original DC
•The building’s 2,314 windows are encased in bronze frames. Most contain
their original 1914 safety glass. Unlike modern skyscrapers, Smith Tower
windows can be opened and closed.
Cost of original construction: $1,500,000.00. ($1.5 million)
•1,432 doors, 2,314 windows, 800 borrowed light openings (interior hallway
windows which allowed light from outer-wall windows to continue inward
toward the inner core of the building).
•Each office contained two telephone outlets, two telegraph outlets (which ran
directly to the telegraph company’s distributing center), and 660 watts of
electricity. Each office was also provided with its own vacuum cleaner.
Foundation: The 120’ X 108’ lot that the Smith Tower occupies was excavated
to a depth of 22 feet. 1,281 concrete pilings were then sunk an additional 22
feet until they reached a layer of hard clay. A grillage of iron and concrete
beams was then placed horizontally atop the concrete pilings. This grillage,
which weighed 1,162,800 pounds, in turn supported massive metal plates upon
which the load bearing columns of the building were placed. The net effect is to
spread the weight of the building over the entire lot.
Fireproofing: All structural steel was coated with 2” of concrete. All hallways,
corridors and common areas finished with sheets of Alaskan marble or Mexican
Onyx (lobby floor). Office doors, window trim, chair and picture rails were
manufactured from steel but painted to look like wood. The intent was to
“totally eliminate the possibility of fire spreading by the simple method of
Thickness of floors: 4” gravel concrete slabs, topped with 2” of cinder fill
(where the original electrical conduits were buried), and finished with 1-1/2” of
either hardwood (offices) or terrazzo (corridors and common areas).
Earthquake history: The Smith Tower has survived three earthquakes of a
magnitude of 6.0 or greater: 2001, 1965, and 1949. The ground under the Smith
Tower was never part of the tidal mud flats that underlie much of Pioneer
Square. Core samples down to 122 feet below 2nd Avenue reveal fallen trees,
some as large as 3 feet in diameter, which have never been exposed to
Current owner: The building is currently owned by Walton Street Capital and
managed by Wright Runstad & Company.
1999 Remodel: After receiving approvals from the state of Washington, the
Pioneer Square Preservation Board, and the Seattle Landmarks Preservation
Board, a $28 million renovation and rewiring project was begun. New to the
building are forced-air heat (no more radiators!), air conditioning, and a fiber
optic telecommunications system that runs through a now closed elevator
shaft. A light well (the open space between the ‘legs’ of the K shaped building)
was filled in to add 16,000 square feet of floor space. An interior fire escape
was added to replace an aging wrought iron fire escape that clung tenaciously
to the outer wall of the first 21 floors of the building. Electrical and security
systems were also updated.
Penthouse: The 37th floor originally contained a caretaker’s apartment. Above
was a multi-story, 10,000-gallon, cast iron water tank. The water tank was
disassembled by welders who cut it into pieces small enough to fit into the
elevator. Then the entire space was remade into a penthouse apartment. It is
the only residence in the building and contains a massive Dale Chihuly