AKA: Smith, L.C., Building #2, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA; Smith Tower, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Gaggin and Gaggin, Architects (firm); Mithun Architects + Designers + Planners (firm); Edwin Hall Gaggin (architect); Thomas Walker Gaggin Sr. (architect); Omer L. Mithun (architect); Frederick E. Rautman (building contractor); A. E. Whitney Jr. (building contractor)

Dates: constructed 1912-1914

42 stories, total floor area: 170,000 sq. ft.

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506 2nd Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104-2343

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Yesler Way and Second Avenue; Lat: 47.60361 Lon: -122.33056

Overview

This 42-story tower dwarfed anything built in Seattle up to that time. The tallest building standing before 1914 in the city was the Hoge Building, standing at 18 stories. The Smith Tower's form recalled other skyscrapers built in New York City during the same period, well-known to the architects Edwin Hall Gaggin and Thomas Walter Gaggin of Syracuse, NY.

Building History

Gaggin and Gaggin had worked with Lyman Cornelius Smith previously, designing for him L.C. Smith Hall at Syracuse University, erected between 1900 and 1902. The firm of Gaggin and Gaggin formed officially in 1902, and the stimulus for its creation may have been the completion of Smith Hall at Syracuse.

A 1-story, brick building previously stood on the 2nd Avenue and Yesler Way site, which was demolished in 1911. Whitney-Steen Company served as the demolition company. Syracuse architects Gaggin and Gaggin designed this tower for fellow Syracuse resident, Lyman Cornelius Smith (1850-1910), a manufacturer of Ithaca Gun Company firearms and L.C. Smith typewriters. Smith and his son, Burns Lyman Smith (1880-1941), spent lavishly to create this tall landmark, between $1.25 and $1.7 million. Burns Smith had been living in Manhattan c. 1908, when he conceived the idea of building the tallest skyscraper outside of New York City. This tower would serve to advertise the Smith business enterprises, much the same way that architect Ernest Flagg's Singer Building (1908) embodied the power and dynamism of the Singer Sewing Machine Company then led by its ambitious president, Frederick Gilbert Bourne (1851-1919). It also served as a substantial Smith Family real estate investment in the rapidly growing city of Seattle, well-publicized in the press following the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

In form, the Smith Tower had the basic configuration of the iconic Singer Building (then the world's tallest), with a tower shaft elevated on a broader building block. Gaggin and Gaggin also studied Napoleon LeBrun and Sons' more recent and highly publicized Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Building (1909), one that Burns Smith was said to have admired. The pyramidal top linked both buildings. Construction on the building's reinforced concrete retaining walls and foundations (consisting of 1,276 concrete piles each an average of 20 feet in length) had been completed by 09/15/1912; first floor steel framing was in place by that time, as well. The Whitney Company was the General Contractor for the Smith Tower; The Seattle Heating and Plumbing Company and the Rautman Plumbing and Heating were the Plumbing Contractors. (The two companies merged during the Smith Tower's construction.) Ne Page, McKenny and Company served as the Electrical Contractor; the Seattle Cornice Works created the cornice for the skyscraper.

Seattle boosters vaunted the Smith Tower as a symbol of Seattle's rise on the world stage; an article of 09/15/1912 in the Seattle Times, boasted: "As an example of the spirit of Seattle the Smith Building is turning the eyes of the country towards this city and it has become noticeable lately that the railroads are using its as feature matter to their folders and descriptive booklets, stamping it as an instance of Seattle progressiveness." It continued, "It marks the entrance of Seattle into the ranks of the larger metropolises of the world and places it second in rank of all as far as skyscrapers are concerned." (See "Rapid Progress now Being Made on New Skyscraper," Seattle Times, 09/15/1912, p. 26.) The Smith Tower opened well after the death of L.C. Smith on 11/05/1910, but Burns Lyman Smith attended opening day ceremonies along with 4,000 others on 07/03/1914.

A report of the Secretary-Treasurer of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union stated of the L.C. Smith Building: "I left New York City for Syracuse to take up a request of Local No. 86 of Seattle, regarding work on the new L.C. Smith building, forty-two stories high; contract for steel fabrication and erection let to the American Bridge Company. Brother Pohlman, Business Agent of Local No. 86, had requested that some one visit the architects, Gaggin & Gaggin, of Syracuse, and endeavor to have them take the contract for erection away from the American Bridge Company. I arrived in Syracuse and immediately called at the office of Messrs. Gaggin & Gaggin, where I took the matter in question up with them concerning the L.C. Smith building. They in turn informed me that they would have to consult with Mr. B.L. Smith son of the late L.C. Smith, who had let the contract, before any changes could be made, and in view of this I concluded to remain in Syracuse over night in order to learn from Gaggin & Gaggin just what decision Mr. Smith had reached in the matter. The following day I learned from Mr. Gaggin, one of the firm, that negotiations would be made with the American Bridge Company in order to have them sublet the steel erection work to some contractor who would be favorable to union labor on the Seattle job. I am glad to report that later on the steel erection for the L.C. Smith building of Seattle was let to E.E. Davis, one of our fair contractors in that city, and is now being erected by members of Local No. 86." (See "Report of the [International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union] Secretary-Treasurer," Bridge Man's Magazine, vol. 13 no. 3, 03/1913, p. 260.)

Owners of the Smith Tower offered it and its annex (potentially to be used as a garage) to the City of Seattle for approximately $990,000 in 1954, but the city declined, as the 40-year-old building seemed too dated. A sheriff's auction was held 09/20/1974 to pay $1.6 million in debts owed by the building's owner, First General Properties, Incorporated, of Miami, FL. King County maintained some offices in this building c. 2007.

In 2012, the Samis Land Company owned the Smith Tower. Samis, the real estate firm founded by Sam Israel (1899-1994), has owned many buildings in the Pioneer Square neighborhood from the 1950s to the present.

Building Notes

The building, designed for the manufacturer, L.C. Smith, was completed in 02/1913, and was the fourth tallest building in the world at the time, with 42 stories; in 1913, when the Woolworth Building stood as the tallest structure in the world, the Smith Tower was the third highest outside of New York City, behind the Philadelphia City Hall and the PNC Tower in Cincinnati, OH, although it was the loftiest structure west of the Ohio River. It contained 170,000 square feet of office space, and officially opened on 07/04/1914. It was long one of the tallest buildings west of the Mississippi River, and remained Seattle's tallest building until 1968.

Originally, the tower was to have 600 offices, 27 on each floor; the lower part of the building stood 236 feet (22 stories) and the tower rose an additional 239 feet (20 stories). Light courts from the third floor up helped to illuminate it. As originally configured in 07/1914, the Smith Tower contained 600 offices. At opening, the first floor had space for 6 stores and a telegraph office, while the basement contained a barbershop and restaurant. The building's exterior on the first two floors was sheathed in Washington granite, upper floors in terra cotta. Elaborate touches distinguished the project; the main lobby was lined with Mexican onyx, bronze and gold leaf, while office finishes were done in bronze and mahogany. Some actual mahogany was used, but the Seattle Chapter of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters installed hollow metal interior trim that was painted to resemble mahogany woodwork. Painted steel doors were used and window sash and casings were composed of bronze, an extravagant touch. Each office had its own toilet, an unusually modern feature. The basement cafe was "...one of the most elaborate in finish and decoration of any west of New York City," (See "Rapid Progress now Being Made on New Skyscraper," Seattle Times, 09/15/1912, p. 26.) The rooftop maintained an observatory and balcony for tourists eager to take in the panorama of Mount Rainier, Elliott Bay and the mountain ranges.

The remarkable Chinese Room on the 35th floor was covered by a carved wood and porcelain ceiling and furnished with blackwood furniture and 17th-century silk paintings given to the Smiths by the Empress Dowager Cixi of China (1835-1908).

Resistance to wind required that building be able to withstand 30 pounds of force per square foot; to achieve this, belts of 20-inch steel girders reinforced the building's perimeter particularly under the 20-story tower and in the light courts from floors 1-10. Provision for electrical power required 18-and-a-half miles of conduit space, filled by 60 miles of telephone, telegraph and power lines. The Smith Tower was added to the Pioneer Square-Skid Road Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district has been added onto three times giving it three ID numbers: 70000086, 78000341, and 88000739.

Alteration

Seattle architectural firm Mithun supervised a recent renovation of the Smith Tower. According to the firm's website, the renovation created the following changes: "Within a strict historic context, seismic and life safety improvements; an addition of an HVAC system; restoration of public areas; an introduction of new power and communications systems; and a new building entrance and retail frontage were added." (See Mithun, "Smith Tower Renovation,"accessed 03/21/2007.) Mithun supervised the renovation of 250,000 square feet of space, and added 12,730 square feet of new space. Completion of the restoration effort occurred in the Spring of 1999.

Discussion occurred in 2007 to transform at least some of the Smith Tower office space into condominiums.

Seattle Historic Landmark: ID n/a

National Register of Historic Places: 70000086 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 4149