Space Needle History: Thursday at the Needle
Knute Berger, Writer-in-Residence
Up on the Space Needle today there was a fashion shoot on the Observation Deck. I watched from my desk while a pair of young models stood with downtown for a backdrop. It reminds me that from the very beginning, the Needle has inspired fashion, from dresses decorated with Needle patterns to fantastic hairdos, from gold Needle jewelry to Needle skinny ties for men. Designers and retailers also addressed the problem of what the well-dressed fairgoer should wear for the exposition season.
The Needle has been the setting for many fashion shoots over the years. An item in the Seattle Times talked about a fashion shoot in the Eye of the Needle restaurant that took place before opening day in April, 1962. Workers were hustling, restaurant employees were still being trained, and the visiting fashion models had to change in a small "powder room" for employees. One model grabbed the wrong shoes: a pair of (appropriately) needle-nosed pumps that belonged to one of the waitresses. The waitress cried, "Hey, those are my shoes," reported the Times. But it was too late: they were in the picture.
That shoot was likely the one that appeared in the paper on April 15 showing off Space Needle fashions above an ad for fresh halibut steaks (49 cents a pound!). The perfect outfit for a lady lunching at the Needle: an oatmeal beige silk suit with a collarless neckline and cream-colored banding, with three-quarter length gloves, pumps and topped by a rolled-brim straw hat. For him: A Mad Men dark suit made of Viracle (a blend of dacron polyester and wool). It's an all- weather outfit, this being Seattle, and wouldn't wrinkle in the rain.
Another memorable fashion adventure occurred in 1965. The Needle was open for breakfast in those days, and every Thursday KING-TV broadcast Telescope, an 8-9am morning show for women shot live in the restaurant. On Thursday, April 29 at 8:29 am, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake hit Seattle, rattling diners, broadcasters and visitors to the Needle. Among those taken by surprise were the Telescope fashion models. Sue Albrecht of KING was there and remembers:
"The models for the fashion segment did dress in the elevator and there was a little slit between the elevator and the 'stable' floor through which you could see the ground. Well, the Needle swayed and you could see the movement from Queen Anne almost to West Seattle. We had a fish tank that day for a 'fishing segment' and the water swished from side to side, getting the carpet soaked. I called [DJ] Frosty Fowler who was broadcasting on KING Radio from the Observation Deck of the Needle to inquire just what was happening. He had heard from Nadine, the switchboard receptionist at the station on Dexter Avenue that we were, indeed having an earthquake. Excitement plus, indeed! Three people demanded that we get them out of the Needle before the broadcast ended and they were walked slowly down the (how many????) stairs to the ground."*
The Needle came through its first major quake, the show went on, and the fashion shoots continue to this day.
*For the record, the Needle reports that are 848 steps between the Observation Deck and the basement.