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10.6.11: Vive La Space Needle!

Space Needle History: Thursday at the Needle

Knute Berger, Writer-in-Residence

The Space Needle will be 50 next year, and the Eiffel Tower will turn 125 in 2014. The Needle was partly inspired by the Eiffel Tower, a world's fair structure that morphed into the lasting symbol of a city. Eddie Carlson, the Seattle hotel executive who was the catalyst for the Needle, toured Europe and after visiting Paris became more convinced than ever that Seattle needed the Needle.

There were a number of important links between the Seattle fair and France. One was that fair organizers had spent a good deal of time in Paris to get official sanction for the fair from the Bureau of International Expositions, which was based there. Century 21 had an office in Paris to handle dealings with European governments, exhibitors and tourists. France, which had helped originate the concept of international expositions in the first place, was the largest foreign exhibitor at the fair, leasing a large section of the Coliseum.

The French immediately understood the importance of a restaurant on a 600-foot tower. Their cuisine was set the international standard for sophistication around the world. The head of the Eiffel Tower's restaurant, Andre Pignarre, offered to bring his kitchen crew to Seattle to prepare the Needle's opening day dinner, if only his hosts would kindly send a Boeing 707 to fly them in. Eddie Carlson, head of Western Hotels which had the contract to operate the Needle, politely declined. The Needle has its own supervising, French-trained chef, Rene Scheiss, who would handle those duties.

Before the fair, in May of 1961, as the Needle construction was starting, Century 21 organizers held a special VIP dinner at a Seattle restaurant (Six Nations) belatedly in honor of the Eiffel Tower's 70th birthday. The menu was designed by Pignarre who also sent nine bottles of Bordeaux, two bottles of cognac, and several bottles of liqueurs from the Eiffel Tower’s “caves” for the pleasure of the “space tower” gourmets in Seattle.

Back in Paris, the Eiffel Tower hung Century 21 posters in their restaurants to promote the fair, and their wine cellar provided the champagne used to toast the Needle's official opening. The bottom line was that the Eiffel Tower acknowledged the Needle as a kindred spirit, and the Needle regarded the Tower as a role model.

As the world's fair ended in the fall of '62, Needle's manager Hoge Sullivan had this to say: "Since 1889 the Eiffel Tower has been a mecca for tourists. We feel that now in the Pacific Northwest we have a comparable attraction with even more to offer in view of the revolving restaurant besides the observation deck."

It was the Eiffel Tower with a new spin.


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