AKA: Rainier Bancorp Tower, Downtown, Seattle, WA; Rainier Plaza, Downtown, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings

Designers: Naramore, Bain, Brady, and Johanson, (NBBJ) (firm); Skilling, Helle, Christiansen, and Robertson, Incorporated, Engineers (firm); Unico Properties, LLC (firm); Yamasaki, Minoru, and Associates (firm); William James Bain Jr. (architect); Clifton J. Brady (architect); John Valdemar Christiansen (structural engineer); Helge Joel Helle (structural engineer); Perry Bertil Johanson (architect); Floyd Archibald Naramore (architect); Leslie Earl Robertson (engineer); John Bower Skilling (structural engineer); Minoru Yamasaki (architect)

Dates: constructed 1972-1977

42 stories, total floor area: 635,824 sq. ft.

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1301 5th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98101-2603

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The Rainier Bank Tower stood on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and University Street.


This highly unusual office building, erected for the Marine Bancorporation's Rainier Bank, opened in 1977. For practice reasons, architect Minoru Yamasaki elevated the office floors of the building on this curved, concrete pedestal. The pedestal elevated the offices above the Rainier Square commercial development surrounding its base and minimized its impact at ground level. The pedestal's deeply set foundations also strengthened the tower's resistance to seismic tremors.

Building History

The Rainier Bank was originally founded by investor Richard Holyoke (1832-1906) as the "Bank of Commerce" in Seattle, WA, in 04/1889. It became chartered under the National Bank Act of 04/1890, becoming the "National Bank of Commerce" (NBC).The NBC took over the Washington National Bank in 06/1906, and later merged with the Marine National Bank and National City Bank of Seattle on 02/23/1929. (See Moody's Manual of Investments American and Foreign, 1944, [New York: Moody's Investor Service, 1944,] p. 478.)

The Rainier Tower was one of the most unorthodox skyscrapers in the world, given its radical engineering design. The entire steel-framed tower rested on a tapering reinforced concrete base, measuring 121 feet in width at the bottom. University [of Washington] Properties (UNICO) and the National Bank of Commerce (Rainier Bank) commissioned Yamasaki to design this bank headquarters. UNICO had previously worked with Yamasaki on the International Business Machines (IBM) Building across the street. The unusual tapered base was selected for multiple reasons. First, its form proved highly effective in resisting huge seismic jolts that could affect Seattle. Second, Yamasaki wanted to preserve the "green" character of Downtown Seattle, and therefore wanted to minimize the building's footprint on the site. Third, he wanted to devote much of the ground space to a retail shopping plaza. Fourth, clearly, Yamasaki also was enamored of the base's soaring, curved form.

The architect worked with the renowned, Seattle-based engineering firm of Skilling, Helle, Christiansen, and Robertson, on the daring design; Skilling's successor firm, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, continued to lease space in the tower in 2010. Yamasaki also collaborated with the Seattle architecture firm, Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson (NBBJ) on the tower; it was the third building designed by the two firms, the others being the Federal Science Pavilion, Seattle World's Fair (Seattle, 1959-1962) and the International Business Machines (IBM) Building, (Seattle, 1962-1964).

Building Notes

Sally Woodbridge and Roger Montgomery's Guide to Architecture in Washington State, ([Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980], p. 127) indicated the address of the Rainier Tower to have been 1200 4th Avenue.

In 2007, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce occupied Suite #2500 of the Rainier Tower.

The retail plaza at the base of the Rainier Tower, Rainier Square, contained 245,000 square feet of space. Originally, a sculpture court occupied the corner of 4th Avenue and University, the retail plaza at the corner of 4th Avenue and Union Street, an outdoor dining area at the corner of 5th Avenue and Union, and the Bank of Tokyo Building on University Street, opposite the Olympic Hotel. Emphasis was placed on planting trees around the tower's minimized base. Rainier Square was torn down in late 2017 and early 2018, to make way for a 59-story, mixed-use, commercial-residential tower and a 12-story hotel developed by the Wright-Runstad Company.

In 2010, Rainier Tower had 635,824 gross square feet, 538,529 net. It shared the same King County Parcel Number, 0002400003, with Olympic Hotel.