Space Needle History: Thursday at the Needle
Knute Berger, Writer-in-Residence
With July 4th coming up, fireworks come to mind. The Space Needle has a spectacular show on New Year's Eve, and the Needle has become associated in many people's mind with such colorful displays. It's appropriate for a structure that has often been compared to a rocket.
You might also be amused to know that in 1962, Walt Disney Comics sent Donald Duck and his nephews to an imaginary world's fair just like Seattle's, and klutzy Donald managed to turn the top of the Needle into a spinning, fireworks pinwheel!
In my research, the earliest fireworks display at the "Needle" actually occurred before it was ever built. Not for Independence Day, not for New Year's Eve, but on April 21, 1961. How'd that happen?
Century 21 organizers wanted to mark the one-year countdown to the fair, set to open April 21, 1962. So they organized a fireworks display to kick-off the home stretch effort to get the fair built. Ground had just been broken for the Needle and the pyramidal Coliseum (now Key Arena) was under construction.
At 8:35 pm, a fireworks display was shot off from the location of the future Needle, and skyrockets and aerial bombs exploded at around 600- feet to mark the height of the Needle-to-be. This gave the public some idea of the scale of what was about to rise and change the city's skyline.
Big fireworks displays on the fairgrounds both opened and closed the world's fair and the Needle offered great viewing. During the closing ceremony at Memorial Stadium in October of '62, elaborate pyrotechnical displays were lit that formed flaming figures of the Century 21 logo, the Monorail, a map of the USA, and the Space Needle complete with its revolving restaurant.
So, before the Needle became a platform for annual fireworks displays, it was itself a firework!