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Originally published Friday, February 15, 2013 at 10:00 AM

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Seattle's Northern Life Tower: an 'enthralling shaft of beauty'

Bricks at the top of the tower are lighter than those used near the street, making the tower's coloring resemble the snow on the nearby mountains.

Special to The Seattle Times

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"enthralling shaft of beauty".....really? Thats just way too easy MORE
I used to work at a successor company to Gladding McBean that had offices in Kirkland... MORE

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SEATTLE'S "BLACK BOX" — aka the Seafirst Tower — was topped off in 1968 at 50 stories above Third Avenue and Madison Street. But locals who were here before that introduction to the Seattle skyline will remember that our central business district once wore only two crowns, both distinguished. Dedicated at 42 stories in 1914, the Smith Tower still reflects glowing sunsets from its skin of cream-colored terra-cotta tiles. The Northern Life Tower, featured here, embraces the same sunsets with its already warm skin of blended face bricks.

Here we join Jean Sherrard on the highest roof of Benaroya Hall for his repeat photo of what is now known as The Seattle Tower at 1218 Third Ave. During its construction in the late 1920s, Gladding McBean and Co., the local supplier of the tower's face bricks, ran ads describing the "enthralling shaft of beauty" as a "monumental endorsement" of its factory's work. And the manufacturer made a folksy point. The oft-noted "graduated color" of the tower is due to Gladding's contribution of different colors of bricks. Bricks at the top of the tower are lighter than those used near the street, making the tower's coloring resemble the snow on the nearby mountains. Sherrard's repeat is wonderfully revealing of the tower's graduated color and its other mountainous allusion: the five steps this Art Deco prize takes to its pyramidal crown.

On April 5, 1929, the new landmark took center stage for the grand party and parade produced for the reopening of then freshly paved Third Avenue. From its open fourth-floor plaza, "Seven marriages were performed simultaneously by Superior Court Judge Chester Batchelor ... in full view of thousands."

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard's blog at www.pauldorpat.com.

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