Anyone who has ever traveled to Seattle will likely want to see the Space Needle and experience the magnificent elevator ride 520 feet up and take in the extraordinary views of the city and Puget Sound from the observation deck. It has been an iconic symbol of Seattle since it was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Indeed, it is the second most globally recognized skyline feature, with the Eiffel Tower in Paris being number one.
I first laid eyes on the Space Needle when I was just about a year old, from my stroller at the Century 21 “Age of Space” World’s Fair in Seattle, but while I was too young then to understand or appreciate its significance, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with going there and taking that spectacular 43-second ride up to the top. Whenever family visited, it was on the list of destinations to take our guests and I was always eager to go along. Then something pretty spectacular happened. I turned ten and my parents wanted to treat me to something really special — they took me to the Needle for dinner in the revolving restaurant. I was over the moon! I got a golden certificate from the maître d’ and a pin to wear. My mother told me that it was because not many children came to dine there — it was that upscale and exceptional. I glowed with pride and felt so grown up.
The Space Needle has undergone a few changes since those early days. For one, the top was originally painted a neon orange, called “Galaxy Gold.” It was painted a more subdued white in the ‘70s and ‘80s and painted that retro bright orange again for its 50th birthday in 2012. It went through a few upgrades and additions as well. In 1999 an event space was built at the 100-foot level to accommodate weddings and corporate events that allow patrons to enjoy an amazing Seattle skyline backdrop.
Today the Needle is going through its biggest transformation yet, a literal “Space Lift.” “The term was coined by our marketing team and one of our longtime marketing consultants, Tyler Cartier,” says Karen Olson, chief marketing officer. “The Space Needle has always been a fun brand. Internally, we say that the Space Needle voice has a “wink.” Thus, referring to the renovation of the tophouse of the Space Needle with a pun, seems fitting.”
The changes are pretty jaw-dropping. This isn’t just a new coat of paint and stylish new chairs kind of update, this is a multi-year undertaking that is transforming the visitor experience by enhancing the views from almost every angle of the Needle. How can they improve on one of the best views already found in the Emerald City? By creating floor-to ceiling glass walls on the interior and exterior, allowing completely uninhibited, 360-degree views of the Puget Sound area. But that’s not all. You can now experience the Loupe.
The Loupe is the world’s first and only revolving glass floor located 500 feet above the ground. The transparent floor offers visitors views of the city below and never-before-seen views of the Space Needle’s structure. For the first time in its 57-year history, the observation deck level will allow visitors to see the elevators glide up and down the structure, and the mechanical apparatus that drives the floor’s rotation.
I had the opportunity to visit the Space Needle last summer during the height of tourist season. It was still very much under construction and a week from the completion of the glass floor installation. But the all-glass observation deck was ready and the experience was nothing short of breathtaking.
But before I get into the experience of standing on an outdoor, floor to sky glass enclosure 500 feet above the ground, I want to share that the experience involves a lot more than just being in the Needle and enjoying the 360-degree view. As you can imagine, The Seattle Space Needle is one of the biggest tourist attractions that the city offers. And during the summer months, the number of visitors can climb to well over a thousand a day. Yes, you heard right. So, there is a bit of a line you have to endure before you embark on the skyward ride to the top. Here is where the marketing team at the Needle has really outdone itself. They installed fun and historical memorabilia along the line that tells the story of how the Needle came to be. There are miniature replicas of the Needle showing the progression of construction, and cool vintage advertisements, posters of the World’s Fair, and clippings from magazine articles praising the architectural marvel.
“To give guests a better understanding of Space Needle’s history, we installed the “Building the Marvel” exhibit in April, 2016,” says Olson. “The exhibit includes compelling images and interactive experiences that reveal the story of the Needle’s conception and construction. The Space Needle partnered with the Seattle Public Library and Storyline Studios to create the custom exhibit to showcase newly-discovered construction photos. George Gulacsik began documenting the construction in April 1961 as workers began to dig a 30-foot-deep hole in preparation for the tower’s foundation. He continued to document the project until January 1962, three months before the World’s Fair.” 2,400 of his photos were donated to the Seattle Public Library.
With all that fun stuff to look at and learn about, the wait in line passed pretty quickly. And before I knew it, I was going up, up, up to check out the day’s main attraction. Even though the ride was short, the attendant took the time to point out locations of interest to riders, sharing some historical landmark facts and answering questions. Then the doors opened, and we disembarked.
The outside deck was already filled with tourists. Some of us ventured out slowly with a bit of trepidation, others just took in the glorious view, and everyone was taking photos and selfies. It was pretty hard to resist doing that myself and I also took some panorama shots. I walked the circumference inside and out and was truly amazed at what I was seeing. It didn’t hurt that I was there on a spectacular summer day and Seattle was shining in all her glory. Ferries were floating across Puget Sound, tall glass buildings were shimmering in the sun and of course, the bluest skies you ever saw beamed overhead.
Since my visit, The Loupe glass floor opened to the public on August 2, 2018 and is an added amazement for visitors. “Though we’re 95 percent done with our historic renovation (and it’s 100 percent awesome), there are a few finishing touches happening over the next few months,” adds Olson. “We are excited to be announcing details about our new lounge and dining experience soon!”
Visitors currently have two options for food and beverages. The Atmos Café, located on the upper observation level, offers quick and quintessential Pacific Northwest light bites. Atmos Wine Bar, located on The Loupe, is open to guests in the afternoon and evening. It features beer and wine, locally crafted cheese boards, and other savory bites paired perfectly with the view. Both locations are open to all guests without reservations.
So, the excitement and changes continue at our beloved Space Needle. But just because there is still some construction going on, don’t let that stop you from going to the Needle the next time you are in Seattle. I highly recommend getting your tickets in advance online, it will save you a little bit of the wait time. But either way it’s worth it to experience the marvel that is the Seattle Space Needle.