Smith Tower

Dear Liza,

Arctic Club walrus, checking out the Smith Tower

This will be my last post about our trip north. We’ve been home a few days now, and it’s time to catch up.

But I couldn’t let it go without telling you about our venture to the top of Smith Tower. Built in 1914 by L. C. Smith, (of Smith- Corona typewriter fame), the Tower was the tallest building in Seattle until the Space Needle passed it in 1962.

We knew that there was an Observation Deck on the 35th floor, and even a bar featuring 1920s style cocktails. The history of the place and promise of beautiful nighttime views was irresistible.

The rum runner’s engineer turned State’s evidence and became a successful inventor

When we arrived and bought our tickets, we each chose a folder with information about actual people who had worked in Smith Tower. Stenographers, building managers and rum runners (people who smuggled liquor when it was illegal), all were represented. They were Hattie Freeman, who ran one of the four switchboards, Joshua Vogel, the architect, and Al Hubbard, a young engineer who kept the rum runner’s boats working.

The switchboard operator dumped her boyfriend and became a ‘private secretary’

Details of their lives and clues to their futures were sprinkled throughout the tour on the first and second floors. We heard snatches of telephone conversations and radio broadcasts and peeked into cupboards.

Preserved tile and brass details…. sigh…

To get to the 35th floor, we rode on one of a bank of seven brass- gated elevators, which are manually operated by wise-cracking fellows in traditional outfits. Our guide was well over six feet, incongruously tall for his tiny workspace, and kept us entertained during our ride.

Making with the wisecracks…..

Once we were at the top, Grandpa Nelson’s vertigo was again challenged. He stepped out for a a brief moment into the platform surrounding the tower, then thought better if it.

Elliot Bay before the storm

Auntie Bridgett and I stayed out and walked around, stunned by the views of Seattle at night. The clear sky and calm Elliot Bay reflected every light on The Great Wheel. All the glass towers built since the Smith have only made the view more magical.

All those taller buildings give us more to look at!

For our refreshment, we opted for dessert rather than cocktails, and enjoyed ice cream and chocolate cake while gazing about the “Chinese Room”, (it’s not called that anymore, I imagine for political reasons) which is decorated with wood carved ceilings, furniture and objects given by the last Empress of China, Cixi herself.

Detail of ceiling of The ‘former’ Chinese Room

We looked at every object, read every piece of information, and enjoyed every minute. Then it was time to head back home to The Arctic Club.

I am so grateful for Grandpa Nelson for planning this trip, and for Auntie Bridgett’s need to photo document everything, or I could never believe or remember all the wonderful things we saw and did.

Life is wonderful.


Grandma Judy

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

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