Smith Tower

Smith Tower stands at 38 story (484ft/147.52m) in Pioneer Square and was completed in 1914. It was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. In 1931, Kansas city Power and Light became the tallest building and in 1962 the Space Needle took the title.

The building is a Seattle landmark. Named after firearm and typewriter magnet, Lyman Cornelius Smith.

Smith was planning on to build a 14 story building in 1909 but his son, Burns Lyman Smith, convinced him to go taller. The younger Smith wanted to beat rival city Tacoma’s National Realty Building which was the tallest skyscraper (233ft/71m) in 1911 west of the Mississippi.

The older Smith didn’t live to see completion of the tallest skyscraper in west, it was completed in 1914 and opened on July 4th.

Amazing architecture. We were curious about it but our guide Carla from our Underground tour convinced us to go. She mentioned that the elevators are being updated and automated so we should check it out for it’s old time feel. We walked over to Smith Tower after our underground tour but weren’t able to buy tickets because they had to prepare for an event. Argh.

But this really nice elevator operator told us that he will bring us up to to observation deck and to look at the bar but we couldn’t do something (can’t remember what). But, yay! Not sure if something like this would happen in NYC, we have security everywhere so its tougher to do these things. We were so touched.

Anyone who follows me regularly knows that by now I’m getting excited. The building is gorgeous, we got to ride in the old style elevator with the attendant. Totally getting my history dork on. And for a bit, you really do feel like you are in a time machine. The attendant gives the building it’s old school charm and you can feel what it was like in yesteryear. He was telling us that the building is going through renovations and being updated, progress is forward but you can’t help feeling sad; this guy is loosing his job. Only 1 elevator will have an operator after renovations. They will be faster, safer, and up to current code so it’s necessary. The owner of the building understands the significance of the elevator operator jobs and how they preserved a time capsule link to the past, hence the 1 elevator with an operator.

Click here to read an article about the Smith Tower automating their elevators after 103 years of manual operation. There’s a little heartwarming note about 76 year old Hamilton Beale, an elevator operator since 1999 in the article. A kickstarter campaign was set up for him by an office worker in the building to help him retire a little more comfortably. They wanted to thank him for touching their lives through the years.


14 thoughts on “Smith Tower

  1. Sometimes an updated code of practice has the consequence of sweeping away a fabulous piece of history. But I’m glad they have a degree of humanity through retaining one of the old elevators. More power to the ‘history dork’s!

  2. Beautiful old building: it’s funny, I’ve visited Pioneer Square a number of times but have never seen this place. I don’t usually use a tour guide, but rely on recommendations from friends, who I guess aren’t interested in places like this.

    I also love old-fashioned elevators, but I know they’re unsafe. In Minneapolis there was this old family-owned women’s clothing store in a turn of the century Romanesque building. (The business had been there since the construction of the building: my mother-in-law shopped there for her wedding dress in the 1940s; her mother refused to pay for it because at $200 it was too expensive. She ended up making her own, but she always talked wistfully about that dress.) They had an old elevator with the iron grill door that the operator pulled open for you. It was fun to see the floors move past as you went up or down. Unfortunately, the operator, an older woman who’d been there since my MIL shopped for her wedding dress, was found one day at the bottom of the shaft. It was thought she stepped into the shaft, not noticing the elevator wasn’t there yet. (I honestly don’t know how that could happen; it sounded frightening when we heard about it.) The charming old elevator was promptly replaced with a modern one after that; still, I felt a little sad they were so quick to get rid of what was essentially a downtown landmark.

    1. I used to work in retail when the northern half of Little Italy was newly christened as Nolita. One place I worked for owned a loft building. One day no one was watching the kid and she fell through the crack into the elevator shaft. There was a big gap between the floor and elevator. She was ok but terribly scared. Very lucky. They look cool but…

      It sound like MIL loved that dress but it sounds really cool her dress was made. So much more personal.

      Check it out next time. It’ll be safer and there will be one elevator with an attendant. We really liked Pioneer Sq.

    1. I read about it and wanted to see it but wasn’t sure if we had time since we only had 2 days. Then the guide mentioned that the elevators were going to be updated so that made me go. She said, “See it while it’s a relic of the past.” Totally sold.

  3. The Smith Tower is one of my favorite landmarks of Seattle, I’d see it every time I’d head to a company I was working with at the time, or when I’d go see a baseball/football game – or just hang around Pioneer Square. This post brought me right back to Seattle ~ I’ve visited the tower a couple of times, always a bit proud that at one time it was the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi. And it is simply just a cool looking building. Love this post ~ the memories of the past shine with this 🙂

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