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Scraping the Northwest Skies

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Buildings & Other Structures

The Seattle skyline has been relatively unchanged for the last twenty years, but it looked quite different thirty years ago.  The vertical explosion in the 1980s created the city view we see today. The Space Needle, often considered the symbol of Seattle, was the city’s tallest point throughout most of the 1960s, until it was surpassed by Safeco Plaza in 1969.

Then suddenly in the 80s, Seattle reached for the sky in a big way.  Seven of the current ten tallest buildings went up between 1981 and 1990.  The biggest addition was the 76-story Columbia Center. It was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River when it opened in 1985.  It’s still the tallest in Seattle, but has dropped to fourth in the West and 20th in the United States.  The most recent Top 10 Seattle skyscraper — and the only one in the last 21 years — went up in 2006.

On a recent afternoon, I captured nine of the ten tallest buildings in a single photo (above).  Hopping the high-points from left to right: US Bank Centre, the glassy Russell Investments and the taller Two Union Square behind it, the still taller 1201 Third Avenue Tower (above the kayak), the dark Safeco Plaza (right of center), the Wells Fargo Center and the Bank of America Fifth Avenue Plaza (appearing side by side from this perspective), Seattle Municipal Tower (partially obscured by the tallest building), and the Columbia Center.  The only other Top 10 building is the Space Needle, way off camera to the left.

Listed below are the ten tallest buildings in Seattle.  Since not even Bellevue has a skyscraper to rival Seattle’s #10, this list doubles as the tallest buildings in the state, too.  (Portland, incidentally, has a 546 foot skyscraper that would edge into a Top Ten list for the Northwest — by three feet.)


Rank Building & Address Height (in feet) Floors Year Opened
1. Columbia Center
701 Fifth Avenue
932 76 1985
2. 1201 Third Avenue Tower
formerly Washington Mutual Tower
771 55 1988
3. Two Union Square
601 Union Street
741 56 1989
4. Seattle Municipal Tower
700 Fifth Avenue
722 62 1990
5. Safeco Plaza
1001 Fourth Avenue
630 50 1969
6. Space Needle
400 Broad Street
605 6 1962
7. Russell Investments Center
1301 Second Avenue
598 42 2006
8. US Bank Centre
1420 Fifth Avenue
581 44 1989
9. Wells Fargo Center
999 Third Avenue
573 47 1983
10. Bank of America
Fifth Avenue Plaza
800 Fifth Avenue
543 42 1981

SOURCE: This list took some footwork and some Internet checking, but no tape measures or BASE jumping was needed on my part.  Once I identified the ten tallest structures (the Space Needle is a building, but is it a skyscraper in the traditional sense?), I checked various sources online — including the individual buildings’ websites — for the accompanying data.  In some cases the height estimates varied from one source to the next, but never more than one vertical foot.

PHOTO © Steve Campion.


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