It’s now arguably the most distinct part of our skyline, but there used to be a Seattle without a Space Needle—and we have the photos to prove it.
In honor of the 55th anniversary of the Needle’s grand opening, dug through the Seattle Municipal Archives to find photos of the Space Needle emerging into our city skyline from 1961 the Century 21 exhibition in 1962.
The original plan for the Space Needle started in a 1959 doodle—basically a circle with a huge leg—by Eddie Carlson. The general concept would evolve over the next couple of years. But it really started to solidify in 1961 when the team behind the Needle purchased what used to be a Fire Department alarm center, with just 13 months to go until the World’s Fair.
Construction started on the needle just a month and change before the tourists rolled in, on April 17, 1961. A concept drawing from shortly before construction illustrates the final plan.
From there, construction progressed quickly. Photos taken later in 1961 show the base taking shape.
By October, the lower legs looked mostly complete, as shown in this photo from Grosvenor House in Belltown.
Photos of the Needle from November 9, 1961 show support beams below observation deck almost creating a complete circle.
By December 1, the base of the observation deck was mostly filled in. The structure topped just a week later, on December 8.
A photo from January 1962—just nine months after construction began—shows an almost fully-formed Needle.
While it hosted an opening gala on March 24, 1962, the Needle officially opened to the public on the first day of the World’s Fair: April 21. Today also marks an anniversary of sorts for much of the Seattle Center—including, in a way, the Pacific Science Center, then the U.S. Science Pavilion.
At the time, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi.
Happy birthday, Space Needle. It’s hard to imagine a skyline without at least one of you.