Tracing the History of Seattle's Iconic Space Needle

Seattle, 1962
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This article appears in the October 2019 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Groundbreaking for Seattle’s iconic Space Needle took place in April 1961 as part of preparations for the city hosting its first world’s fair. The Space Needle was completed in March 1962, and the Seattle World’s Fair kicked off a month later.

In September 1962, the legendary Elvis Presley arrived in Seattle to shoot scenes with actress Joan O’Brien for the film, “It Happened at the World’s Fair.” A gaggle of fans gathered at the legs of the Space Needle near the tower’s elevators as Presley and O’Brien, sporting a bright red dress, acted out their scenes.

The Seattle World’s Fair concluded on Oct. 21, 1962, and five days later, on Oct. 26, the Space Needle reopened to the public — and to this day the 605-foot tower (from the ground to the top of its red warning beacon) remains one of Seattle’s major tourist draws.

The Space Needle is privately owned by the Wright family and located on a 120-foot by 120-foot plot in the 74-acre Seattle Center campus. It cost $4.5 million to build some 57 years ago.

The space-age tower, which boasts some 74,000 bolts and required 5,600 tons of concrete for its foundation, recently underwent a major renovation, called the Century Project, which was completed last year at cost of nearly $100 million. Some 1.3 million people visit the Space Needle annually, many of them making the 43-second journey by elevator to the top level, some 520 feet off the ground, to take in a panoramic view of Seattle’s emerald landscape and glistening skyline. 

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