Smith Tower just got upgraded with a speakeasy and more
After four years of construction, Seattle’s Smith Tower opened on July 4, 1914 with huge fanfare. A total of 4,200 people showed up that day, and spent 25 cents each to ride the elevator to what was then the city’s tallest building.
It was built by New York businessman, LC Smith, whose initials are prominently embedded into designs around the building.
“He’s well known for the Smith Corona typewriter,” says Jim Graham, principal architect with Graham Baba Architects. “And it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi until 1942.”
When the Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, it took the title of tallest Seattle structure.
No longer the tallest building, it is still much beloved in Seattle and Graham Baba Architects has spent the last eight months restoring Smith Tower into a tourist destination.
Smith Tower makeover
Starting Thursday, $10 will get you up to the 35th floor to visit the newly redesigned Chinese Room, that has been renamed as the Observatory. It boasts a new Roaring ’20s era speakeasy style bar, that serves signature cocktails and snacks. And, of course, there’s the view.
“It’s an amazing 360 degree view with a walkway that goes around the entire perimeter,” says Graham. “Views of the Duwamish, the harbor, the stadiums, downtown and all the towers.”
On the ground floor is the new Smith Tower Provisions, an old-fashioned general store complete with:
“Soda fountain, a candy store where you can get gumballs out of the jar, as well as postcards and things that you might find as a tourist. But provisioning for a lunchtime user who might have an office in Pioneer Square.”
They’ve also added 40 minute, self-guided ticketed tours of Smith Tower, where you can learn about the history and the mysteries the building holds.
“In the basement of the Smith Tower was an old speakeasy,” explains Melissa Glenn, a designer with Graham Baba. “There’s some original tile and stuff still down there and a bathhouse that was pretty much the city’s first openly gay nightclub.”
Glenn spent months digging through the bowels of the building, uncovering treasures that were put in storage as the building changed ownership and design elements. She’s also uncovered some excellent stories.
“So Roy Olmstead was a famous bootlegger in Seattle in the ’20s and he was sort of stationed here,” Glenn said. “His wife had a radio program for children that was run out of the Smith Tower. The big story, that is sort of a legend, is maybe she was giving coded information over this radio signal, out of the Smith Tower, to essentially run rum through the city. So maybe Smith Tower was home to more illicit activities. Maybe stuff was stored there, maybe stuff moved through there. They were never able to indict anybody so this isn’t proven. But this is probably one of the more famous stories.”
Lucky you can now enjoy some legal rum on the 35th floor of Smith Tower.