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And the command center for the local Nike [missile] operation was at Fort Lawton, which was considered a site for the world’s fair, but it was considered too important to turn over to a world’s fair because, as someone put it, it contained “the electronic brain of the regional Nike missile operation.”
The Cold War and the possibility that we could get blown up was very real. It was fascinating that the Space Needle was being built at the same time the Berlin Wall was being built.
As I looked through [this material], it seemed clear that there was an effort on the part of America to say there’s two forms of government: capitalism and communism. There’s America and there’s the Soviet Union. One of those forms of government is about aspiration, increasing vistas, being global, democratizing the global view. And the other people are building walls and putting up barbed wire and they’re looking at the world through a machinegun sight.
Lindley: You tell the story of how fair commission director Eddie Carlson came up with the idea for the Space Needle and the name. He did a little sketch of a circle atop a tower.
Berger: Yes. Carlson was head of the state commission looking into a world’s fair and he was involved in the planning of the fair and working tirelessly. He was also a major hotel executive in Seattle for the chain that became Westin.
Carlson was very conscious that the fair needed a symbol. He went on a trip with his wife and another couple to Stuttgart, Germany. He was supposed to be getting away from fair business, but if you’re in the international hotel business, you’re working when you travel. They got stuck in Stuttgart because the couple they were with was picking up a new Mercedes Benz but it wasn’t ready. A local suggested that they have lunch on the Stuttgart Tower — a television tower built in the 1950s with a crow’s nest that had an observation deck and a restaurant. It looked like a needle — a pointed tower with a basket. It had a dramatic view of a not particularly inspiring city. The place was full. Carlson thought this was the kind of thing that could be built in Seattle. They wanted something permanent and a restaurant offered a financial model for how he would pay for something as time went on.
On that same trip, he visited the Eiffel Tower and the Tower of Pisa, and he began seeking out every tower he could visit. When he returned to Seattle, he sketched out this idea. He wasn’t sure who to go to with it. He was afraid he’d be laughed out of the room with this goofy doodle.
He went to a good friend of his, Jim Douglas, who was vice-president of the fair and also vice-president of the Northgate Shopping Center. He said, “I went to Jim Douglas because I knew he wouldn’t laugh at me, and that he [would] listen to my idea and not make fun of it.” And Jim Douglas said they had to see John Graham, Jr., a well-known architect who had built Northgate and had offices in Seattle and New York. And Graham was looking for a major world’s fair project and hadn’t landed one. When he met with Carlson, it turned out he was building a rotating restaurant in Hawaii, and [Graham] said he could make a rotating restaurant, and that’s where it all started.
Lindley: I was surprised that legendary Seattle architect Victor Steinbrueck also had a role in the design process.
Berger: Yes. You had two very important architects in Seattle history involved in the project: Victor Steinbrueck and John Graham, Jr.
John Graham did big commercial projects and he was famous for shopping centers. The Northgate Shopping Center became the model for the suburban auto mall. He was thought of as a businessman’s architect.
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