After not being able to go out for so long due to the COVID-19 quarantine guidelines, this month I’m going to share a few places that you might want to put on your bucket list to visit when this craziness allows us to once again venture outside – the Space Needle in Seattle, the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) in Chicago, and the CN Tower in Toronto. Each of these structures are extremely tall, unique, and transformed the skyline of the cities they are located in when built. The first place (the Space Needle) I’ve actually had the pleasure of visiting twice. It’s been many years, but both times it was awesome.
During a visit to Germany in 1959, Seattle hotel executive Edward Carlson doodled the idea for the Space Needle on a napkin. He could see the potential for a Space Age tower as a symbol for the 1962 World’s Fair and the Seattle skyline. Architect John Graham Jr., who was overseeing the design, wanted the top of the needle to resemble a UFO. He had already built a revolving bar in Hawaii, so he used that technology to make the Needle the first free-standing rotating restaurant in the world (this restaurant is currently closed while the Space Needle is being renovated).
It took approximately 400 days to build the Seattle landmark, which was dubbed as the “400-day wonder” at the time. At a total cost of $4.5 million, a small part of that cost was $75,000 for the 120 x 120 lot that had formerly been a fire station. For the foundation, a hole 30 feet deep and 120 feet across was dug, and then 467 concrete trucks filled it in one day. At the time, it was the largest continuous pour ever done west of the Mississippi. Later, the structure was bolted to the foundation with 72 bolts that are each 30 feet long. The tower was built to withstand 200 mph winds and an earthquake up to 9.0 magnitude. In 1965, the first major earthquake shook the tower, and the only damage was a broken bottle of champagne.
Some 2.65 million people visited the Needle during the 1962 World’s Fair. At the time, it took one motor to turn the revolving restaurant at the top, but today it takes 12 motors to turn the Needle’s new glass turntable, which makes one complete revolution every 45 minutes. Each elevator can carry 25 people to the top of the 605-ft. tall tower in just 43 seconds. It wasn’t until 1999 that the Space Needle was designated as an official Seattle landmark. An estimated 60 million people have visited the Space Needle between it’s opening and 2017, and it is the number one tourist attraction in the Pacific Northwest.
Bob Stupak was the one who came up with the concept of a tall neon sign tower for his casino, Vegas World, in Las Vegas, NV. In early 1989, he submitted plans to the city for the approval of the sign tower, which would stand four times taller than the hotel. He later revised the plans to include an elevator going up to an observation deck, wanting the tower to be a local landmark. He was trying to do for Las Vegas what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, the Empire State Building did for New York, and the Space Needle did for Seattle. And he did!
Unveiling his revised plan in 1990, Stupak proposed a 1,012-ft. observation tower with a top floor that would have a revolving restaurant and four penthouse suites. In April 1990, despite objections from the Federal Aviation Administration and nearby Nellis Air Force Base, both stating that it was too tall, the project was approved. Stupak said that if it hadn’t been for the courage of the city council, the tower would have never been built.
Ned Baldwin, who also worked on the CN Tower in Toronto, was the main architect that designed the Stratosphere. At 1,149 feet tall, the Stratosphere is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States, and second only to the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario. The Top of the World restaurant is located more than 800 feet above the Las Vegas Strip, with breathtaking views of the city, and every 80 minutes the restaurant revolves a full 360 degrees.
You might want to wait to eat if you chose to ride one of the thrill rides high atop the tower. The Big Shot sits at the 920-foot level and blasts people 160 feet up at 45 mph. Insanity is a ride that has seats tethered to an arm that swings out beyond the tower edge. As riders are dangling at 900 feet, the seats tilt, facing the passengers downward towards The Strip, and then the whole things spins. Sky Jump participants get in a harness that’s tethered to a pulley system, walk to the edge of a platform, and jump off the top of the tower. The cables allow for a thrilling but controlled drop to the ground. Recently, on January 22, 2020, the Stratosphere was officially renamed The Strat Hotel, Casino and Sky Pod.
Another place in the sky I visited on a field trip to Chicago was the Sear’s Tower (now the Willis Tower). I can still remember the amazing view and how I could feel the building swaying in those Chicago winds. Skydeck Chicago features a restaurant in the clouds that doesn’t revolve, but the views at 1,353 feet will still make for a memorable meal. As an added attraction, several all-glass boxes, which extend over four feet out from the building’s edge on the 103rd floor, provide heart-pounding views of the city and the ground below, for those who can take it.
It was in 1969 when the Sears, Roebuck and Co. decided it needed a central office for its 350,000 employees that the original vision for the tower came to life. Back then, Sears was the largest retailer in the world. Breaking ground in 1970, it took three years to build, with construction being completed in May of 1973. The Sears Tower was the world’s tallest building until 1998. In 2009, the building was renamed the Willis Tower after one of its occupants, the Willis Group Holdings Ltd, a global insurance broker who calls the tower its Midwest home. The naming rights were only made valid for 15 years, so this skyscraper could be renamed in 2024.
At 1,450 feet tall and 110 floors, the Willis Tower is the 12th tallest building in the world and the 2nd tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Here are some amazing statistics about the tower, which on average sways six inches from true center: it has 16,100 bronze-tinted windows, 25,000 miles of electrical cable, 25 miles of plumbing, 80 miles of elevator cable, 145,000 light fixtures, 104 elevators (moving at 1,200 feet per minute) and only two entrances.
The last unique structure featured in this story is the CN Tower in Toronto (Canada). It was completed in 1976 and its name CN referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower. Rising 1,815 feet, the tower’s origins were rooted in practicality. In the 1960s, unprecedented construction transformed the skyline of relatively low buildings to one dotted with skyscrapers. These taller buildings caused serious communication problems for the existing transmission towers that were unable to broadcast over the new buildings. Signals bouncing off the buildings created poor television and radio reception for residents. With a huge antenna on the top of the tower, the people of Toronto could now enjoy some of the clearest reception in all of North America.
In August 1974, the construction began on the seven-story sphere that would eventually house the observation decks and revolving restaurant. When the 44th and final piece of the antenna was bolted into place, the CN Tower joined the elite group of other great structures that had previously held the title of World’s Tallest Free-Standing Structure – and it would hold that record for over 34 years. The 360 Restaurant, located 1,150 feet up, revolves every 72 minutes, and holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s highest wine cellar.
Created to resemble a typical underground wine cellar, this one, high in the sky, features precision climate and humidity controls, redwood racks, cherry doors, a 9,000-bottle storage capacity and a tasting table. A 2.5-ton state-of-the-art cooling system was put in the cellar’s ceiling to ensure that the wine is stored at the ideal temperature of 55 degrees, with a 65% relative humidity. Featuring more than 500 wines from around the world, including Canadian and International labels, it allows them to store one of the most extensive selections in Toronto.
So, after all the quarantines and staying home orders have ended, maybe it will be time to get out of the house (or truck) and get up in the air to enjoy a great meal, some fun attractions, and a whole lot of awesome views. If you have never visited any of these places, I highly recommend that you put them on your bucket list and go up, up and away. You will not be disappointed – dizzy and queasy, maybe – but not disappointed. Hey, you only live once. Get out and have fun as soon as you can!