The second building from my travels to the west coast of America is the former ‘Northern Life Tower’, located in downtown Seattle, WA, at 1218, 3rd Avenue, on the corner of University Street.
Now called the ‘Seattle Tower’, the iconic building was built in 1928 as the new headquarters of the Northern Life Insurance Company, which had been founded in the Pacific Northwestern city in 1905, by brothers David Bruce Morgan (1869-1943) and Tasso Mayne Morgan (1862-1918).
The building was notable as being the first example of ‘Art Deco’ architecture in Seattle, with newspaper adverts from the time of completion noting the new tower as being “typical of New York”, where the earlier Barclay-Vesey Building is widely acknowledged as being the first ‘Art Deco’ skyscraper in America.
Designed by the Seattle-based architect, Abraham Horace Albertson (1872-1964), who worked with the consulting architects, Joseph Wade Wilde (1878-1968) and Paul David Richardson (1888-1939), the steel-framed building rises 27-storeys above ground, with setbacks at several points creating a tapered tower.
The building was finished with “artistically blended” face bricks of varying colours, which came from the Renton, WA., works of Gladding, McBean & Company, whose main factory and headquarters was located in Lincoln, CA. Terracotta, supplied by the same firm was used to cap the vertical piers that run up the building.
Construction was the responsibility of the Sound Construction & Engineering Company, with groundbreaking taking place on 17th February, 1928. A cornerstone was laid six months later on 10th August by David Morgan, as part of a well-attended civic ceremony.
Whilst shorter in absolute terms than the existing 38-storey ‘Smith Tower’, as a result of its elevated location within the city, the ‘Northern Life Tower’ became Seattle’s tallest building above sea level upon completion.
The new building was ready for occupancy on 1st March, 1929 and despite its name, the tower was in fact occupied by multiple firms including both the building’s architect and construction company.
The ground, or first floor as it is known in America, was occupied by ‘The Tower Savings Bank’, who presented depositors with a ‘Tower Bank’, a metal coin bank replica of the building, manufactured by the A. C. Rehberger Company of Chicago. Now collectors items, the models occasionally come up for sale on eBay.
The iconic exterior profile was matched by an opulent ‘Art Deco’ interior, with the ground floor lobby area finished in green marble and ornate metalwork, most notably to the elevator doors. A decorative bronze map showing the Pacific Ocean is situated at the far end of the lobby.
The ‘Northern Life Tower’ was added to the National Register of Historical Places (N.R.H.P.) in 1975 and remains in near-original condition, with the interior particularly well preserved. It is among the finest examples of ‘Art Deco’ architecture in America and for anyone with an interest in the style, is well worth visiting.
As a final note, the Northern Life Insurance Company survived as a standalone entity until 1977 when it was acquired by the Northwestern National Life Insurance Company of Minneapolis, MN. The historic name disappeared in 1995 when the combined entity was renamed ‘ReliaStar’, which was itself acquired by Voya Financial in 2000.
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