As the 21st century ends its teenage years, enthusiasm for Midcentury style and design has never been more intense. A steady public appetite continues to grow for the strong lines, natural shapes, vibrant color, and elegant simplicity of midcentury furniture, clothing, and architecture. Even now dear reader, you may be wearing a retro swing dress and enjoying this blog while sitting in a black Stratham chair. If this is the situation you find yourself in, you may also be wondering, “How can I plan a midcentury vacation?” Have no fear my inquisitive wanderer, the DIY Travelers have planned out the ultimate midcentury travel itinerary. First stop: The Seattle Space Needle.
Living in the Space Age
While the Space Needle is a towering landmark of classic midcentury architecture, the real story lies in the motivation behind its construction. This colossal steel spear designed to pierce the heavens was created as the cornerstone monument of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. Officially named the Century 21 Exposition, this fair was one of the last great celebrations of 1950’s American optimism. It imagined a futuristic 21st century transformed by unlimited progress and technological advancement. The United States could accomplish any scientific feat, including winning the Space Race against the Soviet Union. Everything could be built bigger, better, and more amazing. The Space Needle is the physical manifestation of this unbridled enthusiasm, reaching ever upwards toward the stars.
This Town Needs a Monorail
The only authentic midcentury method of visiting the Space Needle is by taking a ride on the Seattle Center Monorail. In the 1950’s and 60’s, no form of transportation could lay claim to being more futuristic than the monorail. It seemed to glide on air, powered by fantastic space age technology. It should be no surprise then that the Seattle World’s Fair included one. This monorail transported 8 million people to the ‘World of Tomorrow’ during the six months of the fair. Even the King himself, Elvis Presley, rode it during his visit.
Today you can ride the very same trains used during the World’s Fair. The Red and Blue trains of the monorail have been in service for nearly 55 years. In downtown Seattle, board the monorail on the 3rd floor of the Westlake Center Mall. Enjoy the city views as the train whisks you at 45 mph towards the Seattle Center and the Space Needle. As you go, imagine the excitement felt by millions of visitors experiencing this technology for the first time in 1962. Riding on a silent cushion of air as they approached the fair grounds, they must have really felt they were traveling into the future.
Panoramic Dreams at the Space Needle
You’ll see the Space Needle towering above its surroundings long before you reach it. The sleek concrete and steel design propelling upwards invokes the midcentury aesthetic of efficiency and industry. The aerodynamic lines of the observation level give it the appearance of a flying saucer straight out of a 1950’s science fiction movie. The Space Needle so perfectly reflects space age design that artist Iwao Takamoto used it as the inspiration for the futuristic buildings on The Jetsons cartoon show.
There are many great places near the base of the Space Needle to shoot vertigo inducing photographs straight up. The real prize though is taking panoramic images from the observation deck. The are many taller structures in the world, but few are surrounded by such an amazing and diverse landscape. Capture the cityscape of downtown Seattle, photograph the open water and islands off the coast, or shot the surrounding cloud covered mountains. Take full advantage of 360° of stunning views to photograph.
Of course going to the top isn’t the only thing to do at the Space Needle. There’s the SkyCity rotating restaurant where you can enjoy regional cuisine and spectacular views at 500 feet. There is also a gift shop in the base of the needle if you want to take home a souvenir. The Space Needle is just one of the attractions offered at the Seattle Center. The former world’s fair grounds are also home to the EMP Museum, The Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, The Pacific Science Center, The International Fountain and many other attractions.
We’ll cover everything you can do at the Seattle Center in future articles here at DIY Travelers. In the meantime, hang on to your fedoras as we climb into the Thunderbird for the next destination in our midcentury vacation.
Here are some useful links to help you plan your visit to the Space Needle:
Hungry after taking in the spectacular views atop the Space Needle? Head over to our partner food blog, Cooking School Dropouts, and plan your lunch. They’ve just chowed down on fried clams at Ivar’s Fish Bar. Discover how a local folk singer named Ivar Haglund used outrageous marketing stunts and crazy commercials to build an iconic Seattle restaurant chain. Keep Clam and visit Ivar’s Acres of Clams at CookingSchoolDropouts.com.
This article is part of a DIY Travelers ongoing series, Return to the World’s Fair, a guide to former World’s Fair sites all over the world. We travel to these locations and discover what remains of the fair grounds and buildings. Whether empty fields, ruined buildings, or vibrant urban centers; we guide you on how best to enjoy your visit to a long lost World’s Fair.