Look in any direction in Seattle today and the view is sure to include a common sight: construction cranes. In parts of downtown and South Lake Union, the number is more like 10 or 15, as the tech boom continues to drive Seattle further up and out.
In 1961, just months before the start of the World’s Fair, there was one project that captivated residents of the city. The construction of the Space Needle — meant to symbolize a futuristic and modern city — created an architectural marvel that to this day serves as an icon to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.
The Seattle Public Library this week made available a previously undisplayed collection of 2,400 photographs that show the Needle rising in its home at Seattle Center. Photographer George Gulacsik captured the images, documenting the workers and the scenery from groundbreaking in April 1961 to grand opening a year later.
The photos of this iconic structure are amazing, in part because they showcase Seattle in a different era — one that many new residents to our booming city don’t (and never will) recognize. They also highlight an era when the community rallied behind a common mission, something that in today’s fractured environment seems nearly impossible. And they remind us of how far we’ve come, while also raising questions of who we are as a city.
Gulacsik died in 2010 and his wife donated his images to the Library, which digitized them with the help of the Space Needle Foundation.
It’s particularly interesting to look back at the construction of the Needle and not only be amazed at how techniques, machinery and safety measures differ from today, but also to recognize how a space-age design was built for a community event and became an instant landmark.
Fifty-four years after the Space Needle went from napkin drawing to $4.5 million realization, Seattle’s tech billionaires are putting their own personal stamp on the look of the city.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen did that with the EMP Museum in 2000, as his Frank Gehry-designed, colorful blob sits right at the foot of the Space Needle.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is taking the lead in 2016, not just with his online retailer’s creation of a massive Seattle campus, but with the look of some of it — namely the biospheres being constructed right now at the base of new headquarters buildings near downtown Seattle.
The project, surrounded by normal-looking glass office towers, is already catching the attention of pedestrians who gawk and ask, “What the heck are those?”
GeekWire has written extensively about the design concept for the biospheres, and, in an unknowing nod to Gulacsik’s dedication to documenting the rise of the Needle, we’ve shot a few images so far of Bezos’ vision coming to life.
The “Jetsons”-esque Space Needle is even visible just blocks away to the north, so it’s certainly worth mentioning that one of Bezos’ other big passions is getting us to space on one of his rockets.
Perhaps in another 50 years, residents of Seattle will look back at how the current and future tech billionaires of the city further shaped its look and feel. The Space Needle — designed to reflect a vision of the future — seems to have remained timelessly attractive.
Will the same be said for the biospheres or whatever comes next?