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Seattle's Space Needle at 50: The rush job is holding strong

December 14, 2011 |  7:00 am

Space Needle turns 50

Some may say Seattle's Space Needle was built to contact alien life-forms, but one thing is for sure: The Needle, all 605 feet of it, was a rush job.

"The successful completion of the Space Needle in record time, with no lives lost, was a source of immense pride to our community."

So says the company that owns the Space Needle and charts the structure's 50-year history on its cool website. Why the rush? The 1962 Seattle World's Fair was just around the corner. Its theme was the future, "Century 21," and the Needle was to be the crowning touch. Construction began just a year and four days before the opening of the fair. 

PHOTOS: Turning 50 in 2011

"This will be to Seattle what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris," Seattle World's Fair Chairman Eddie Carlson said at the time. "The Space Needle will be the great symbol of a great city."

The official "topping off" ceremony was Dec. 14, 1961, said David Blandford of Visit Seattle.

On the 40th anniversary of the fair, the Seattle Times wrote:

The tower's earliest days as a tourist magnet can be forgiven. The Space Age color scheme of "re-entry red," "orbital olive," "galaxy gold" and "astronaut white" was totally of the era.

It was on Feb. 20, 1962, after all, that John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. Maybe it seemed a fitting tribute to dress the female elevator attendants at the Space Needle in skin-tight gold "spacesuits" during the fair.  

The 50th anniversary of the Needle is a great time to peek into its history, which includes -- besides one of the world's first high-rise rotating restaurants -- storks, aliens and parachute leaps.

CHEESE, or the Committee Hoping for Extra-Terrestrial Encounters to Save the Earth, has said it has plans from the 1962 World's Fair that show the Space Needle was built for the purpose of communicating with alien life-forms. This is according to a list of facts and lore from the folks at the Space Needle. The story could be an old alien wives' tale, however, as little sign of this group can be found on the Web except in association with this bit of trivia.

Another story from the Space Needle corporation screams "The War of the Worlds" redux. A Seattle-area television station, one fateful April Fools' Day, aired a report that the Space Needle had toppled. A flashing alert during the report told the audience that the report was a joke, but emergency phone lines received many calls and the Space Needle received more than 700. One Spokane, Wash., man reportedly took off in his car, heading for the Space Needle, because that's where his daughter worked.

Also among the lore: A stork's nest was planned for the top of the structure, then scrubbed when officials realized Seattle's climate wasn't compatible with storks, which wing their way to warmer spots.

Six times, parachutists have leaped from the Space Needle -- two of those stunts were unauthorized.

Here are some more Space Needle numbers:

-- The foundation weighs 5,850 tons and has 250 tons of reinforcing steel.

-- The entire Needle weighs 3,700 tons.

-- It's bolted to the foundation with 72 bolts, each 30 feet long.

-- There are 848 steps from the bottom of the basement to the top of the Observation Deck.

-- The Space Needle is made to hold up against 200-mph winds.

-- And for every 10 mph of wind, the structure sways about 1 inch.

ALSO:

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President Obama grayer at 50

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-- Amy Hubbard+

Photo credit: Loren Callahan / Reuters

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