6.2.11: As the Needle Turns

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Space Needle History: Thursday at the Needle

Knute Berger, Writer-in-Residence

J Taylor is the Space Needle’s “Scotty,” the Chief Engineer and Facilities Manager who keeps the place running. He even has an office on top of the Needle, which is the good news because you’d be hard- pressed to find a better piece of office real estate. The bad news: there are no windows up there. He’s in a utility room that’s about as glamorous as your average basement.

We talked about the things it takes to keep the Needle turning, and keep the elevators running up and down. One thing they monitor up there is the weather because it can impact operations. For example, the elevators, being on the outside of the structure, are exposed to the wind. When it’s windy, they slow them down. And on the rare occasions when it snows hard, someone has to shovel the white stuff that collects on top of the Needle so it doesn’t turn to ice and drop off.

Here’s a piece of trivia that might win you a bar bet. How many elevators are there in the Needle? Three, you might say: two that carry visitors and a third utility elevator that transports employees and supplies from the basement to the saucer-like Top House. Your food and toilet paper have to come up some way. But, there are actually four Needle elevators if you count a small dumbwaiter that runs between kitchens on the upper levels.

We also discussed the turntable system that rotates the outer ring of the restaurant floor. The floor is on miniature train wheels that follow a circular track. Taylor says the floor is currently powered by a 3 horse-power motor (an upgrade from the original 1 hp drive), but if need be, it could be turned with only 1/2 hp, that’s how good the system is.

Another thing I didn’t know: The revolving restaurant can slow or change directions. The dining room usually rotates clockwise. It used to take an hour to go around, but in the real 21st Century, it actually takes just 47 minutes, which is pretty much top speed. But it can be slowed to a leisurely two-hour rotational pace, and if need be it can even turn counter clockwise, which has been done, from time to time, to suit TV or film directors. If they’re shooting a scene and want to get another take with the same view outside, the turntable can be stopped and backed-up so they can shoot again.

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Built as the centerpiece and inspiration for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Space Needle has since become a part of the Seattle experience and the globally-recognized icon for the city. The Space Needle stands 605 feet tall with unparalleled views of Seattle, and houses an Observation Deck, an award-winning restaurant, SkyCity at the Needle, a popular private event venue, and a retail shop. Open year-round, the Space Needle hosts more than a million visitors per year. For more information visit: www.spaceneedle.com

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