Archives Find of the Month: Building the Space Needle

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Seattle Municipal Archives image number 165653

In 1960, officials from the Century 21 Exposition were in discussions with Seattle city officials over the construction of a 550-foot tower “to be used for restaurant purposes” on the grounds of the upcoming World’s Fair. Joseph Gandy, president of the Exposition, claimed that the proposed structure would be “of tremendous excitement, interest, and value” to the fair, and opined that it would become “one of the greatest tourist attractions in any metropolitan civic center area.” He said that the design of John Graham & Company had been chosen, and that “the engineering that has gone into this design has been very substantial.”

Cheerleading for the project aside, there was much negotiation to be done about how to proceed with the project, and particularly its funding. Gandy pointed out that while title to the land belonged to the city, financing for its construction would need to come from private, not municipal, sources. Gandy suggested an agreement whereby the city would issue revenue bonds to finance the construction, which would then be purchased by private funders, and then would grant the funders a 20-year operating concession for the tower. He stressed that “time is precious if we are to see to it that this tower is actually constructed and in operation during the Exposition.”

Asked for his response to the proposal, the city’s Superintendent of Buildings Fred McCoy expressed some reservations about “the desirability of authorizing a private company or corporation to construct such a facility,” and wanted to be sure any agreements were clear that the lessee “would assume all responsibility for construction, operation and maintenance.”

However, McCoy’s main concern was what would happen if the lessee failed to make the project financially successful, obliging the city to take it over. He wanted to be certain the city would not become responsible for a “550-foot high white elephant” Space Needle.