We didn't actually go into the Smith Tower, but walked by it in Pioneer Square on our way to the Underground Tour. I wish now that we would have gone in it! I really feel as though I missed a real architectural gem! The simple-looking Washington granite and white terra cotta exterior of the building seems to bely the beauty which awaits inside.
Opened on July 4, 1915, it was Seattle's first skyscraper. At a height of 522 feet it was considered the 4th tallest building in the world and was the tallest building west of the Mississippi for almost 50 years. Inside the hallways and bathrooms are "lined with Alaskan marble" and the floors are made of hand-laid mosaic tiles, while the "grand lobby" is paneled entirely in Mexican onyx and watched over by 22 larger than life" carved Indian heads.
The "Crown Jewel" of the Smith Tower is the 35th Floor Chinese Room. It is a treasure trove of 17th century art and boasts a hand-carved teakwood ceiling inlaid with 776 semi-precious porcelain disks. The brochure states that uniformed elevator operators still main the original 1914 Otis elevators which are brass and copper caged works of art themselves.
If you cannot visit in person, have a look at the Tower's website for a sneek peek. Remarkably, admission prices remain the same in 2013 as they did in 2008!!
Obervation Deck Admission: $7.50 Adults
$6.00 Seniors 61 + and students with ID
$5.00 children 6 - 12yrs
A historical landmark, the building was the vision of Lyman Cornelius Smith, a New York tycoon, back in 1909. He did not live to see it open in 1914 but his son did.
There is an observation deck you can go up to (for a fee). As you enter the building on the ground floor it is quite impressive. Spanish onyx walls are just gorgeous! Brass elevator doors and fixtures.
Currently, used as office space.
Being crowd-averse and naturally cranky, I did not even attempt the Space Needle while in Seattle. Instead, I walked uphill from Pioneer Square to the impressive Smith Tower. I walked in, got on the operator run cage elevator, and bought my ticket up top. No wait.
There are certainly taller buildings to visit, but if you're interested in a wee bit of history, and some great detailing, the Smith Tower will do the trick. This was the tallest building west of Chicago for fifty years.
At $7.50/adult, it's also a bit cheaper than the other observation decks.
A less expensive alternative to the Seattle Space Needle, but still affording similarly fantastic panoramic views of the city and surrounding areas is the Smith Tower Observation Deck. Located in the heart of Pioneer Square just minutes away from downtown, the Smith Tower opened in 1914 as Seattle's first skyscraper, and for 50 years, was also considered the tallest building west of the Mississippi.
Ascend the tower by a manually operated Otis elevator to reach the 35th floor observation deck, otherwise known as the Chinese Room. Though pretty sparse in my opinion, the room features a beautifully hand-carved teakwood ceiling, oriental art from the 17th century, and a 300 year-old wishing chair that predicts marriage within one year to any single woman who sits in it. Unbeknownst to me of its "magical powers," I happily posed in it for a picture. Unfortunately however, the photo didn't come out so good. Hm, hope that wasn't a sign of something else.
Anyway, walk outside the Chinese Room for views of Mount Rainier and the different mountain ranges, Safeco and Qwest Fields, the waterfront, Pioneer Square, and even the Space Needle (just zoom in though).
The standard entrance fee for the observation deck is $6.00 for adults, $5.00 for seniors over 60 or students with ID's, $4.00 for kids 6-12, and nothing (free) for kids under five. If you happen to take Bill Speidel's Underground Tour that same day, just show the Smith Tower cashier your ticket stub from the tour to receive a $1.00 off admission, so in total, that's $5.00, just about 1/3 the cost of going up the Space Needle. Cool deal.
Note: For more pix from the Smith Observation Deck, please refer to my Travelogues below.
On a Saturday afternoon fresh from the Underground Tour I noticed some signs advertising the Smith Tower China room and observatory. Then when I turned around I noticed it was just a block away from where I was standing in Pioneer Square so I headed there for a look.
This building is historic and at one time was one f the highest structures in Seattle. The architechure inside still has an old but elegant look. The majority of the building is all office space and the observatory at the top is the only section open to the public.
You obviously get a great view of the city and waterfront from this perch. If you want to get a picture of the city with the Space Needle in it, it is obviously a better view than from in the Space Needle. Also on a clear day you can get a closer view of Mount Ranier and its a little closer to Qwest Stadium and Safeco Feild.
The decor is all Chinese. Apparently Mr. Smith received all the furnishings as gifts from the Chinese because of his relationship with them selling typewriters and stuff. The web site has lots of information on the buildings history.
I did have one funny incident at the top of the tower. You can to pay to get a pass to get back down. Mysterially my Visa and Mastercard stoped working at this location but had just minutes prior at the Rogue's Gallery. To the point I had no cash but the guys where cool and gave me a pass, so I got a free excursion to the Smith Tower and escaped without having to do any dusting, dishes, sweeping or anything like that.
At the top you can also take in the view from inside or out. I remember if I did have to pay it would have been $5. I got a $1 discount because I went on the Underground Tour, so those guys obviously had an arrangement but there was a 20% savings :-).
Happy viewing from up there!
The Smith Tower is named after Lyman C. Smith of Smith and Corona typewriters. It stands at 522 feet, not very high by today’s skyscrapers, but it was a very commanding building at the time it was built, being the tallest building west of Chicago for nearly 50 years.
But the best feature of the Smith Tower is its observation deck on the 35th floor where you can take in breathtaking views of Seattle in literally all directions without any windows in the way of picture taking. You get to step outside, but of course there’s a high railing to deter anyone wanting to go down without the use of the stairs or elevators. First view as you step through the sliding glass doors is the shimmering Elliot Bay. Walk to your left and you end up looking at two of Seattle’s sports stadiums, one for the Seahawks for the NFL and the Mariners for Baseball. Beyond that is the floating peak of Mt. Rainier. I say floating because it is almost always shrouded in clouds, but it looks surreal. I’m almost expecting Disney’s monorail to go spiraling up the peaks. Continue on and you see beyond Seattle and moving further still you’re at eye level to most of Seattle’s modern skyscrapers, mainly the Bank of America building. Then through some gaps between buildings you can see the Space Needle.
The Smith Tower has a live elevator operator that takes you up to the 35th floor and upon entering, you pay $6 admission fee. As part of the ticket stub, you are given a postcard fashioned after a postcard used in the Tower’s 1914 opening. The postcard has lots of info on the materials used to build the Tower.