The Smith Tower, arguably Seattle’s first nationally iconic building, has been purchased by Goldman Sachs. This is a shame; Goldman Sachs is one of those giant investment firms/international banks that a lot of folks outside of finance don’t know what they do *exactly* but their international influence is hard to understate. They’ve become a bit of a cartoon villain for the left, which would be eye rolly if they weren’t pretty much as bad as people say.
Unlike other pending purchases and demolitions, this is a done deal. There’s no rally, protest, city council measure that can stop it. What this actually means for the building is unclear; they obviously aren’t tearing it down and if they’re smart (which they are) and not heartless (which they are, but the profit margins aren’t high enough here) they’ll keep the nifty observation deck open. The only difference this makes to those of us that don’t have offices or apartments there is that we’ll know it’s owned by Goldman Sachs.
WHEN BUILDINGS ARE ALSO PEOPLE
My first time in Chicago was five years ago, when our current President was just a celebrity and Democrats still held the senate. Walking around downtown I was struck at the hugeness of it all; it felt different than New York, with it’s stateliness and pretensions achieved. Chicago is big for the sake of bigness. As Carl Sandburg stated, it is the City of Big Shoulders. All the buildings are impressive, only a few are pretty.
My buddy and host James was touring me around the downtown and pointing out various points of interest, as one does with a newcomer to their town. He was seeing the city with refreshed eyes and my eyes were popping. He pointed at a particularly stylish building, obviously newer but still in keeping with the range of architecture styles.
“You know, I would absolutely love that building if it weren’t tainted by the odious name of Donald Trump.”
SKYLINES AS OPPORTUNITY
I love city skylines. I love looking at them, I love driving past them, I love pictures of them, and I love drawing them– real or fictitious. They inspire a sense of possibility, of opportunity, of the joys and terrors of humanity all compacted into a grid and built up.
Part of this is from living in towns and being involved with artistic communities wherein the town’s smallness represented a lack of opportunities– real or imagined.
Owen sat on his rooftop, a small, but buzzing art party finishing up and we all looked out over Swansea, with it’s mix of low slung businesses, blocks of rowhouses and one skyscraper.
He had spent years trying to build an independent visual arts scene, and despite some solid shows, a respectable gallery and a few regionally buzzed shows, the community could still fit on a rooftop party in the rain. He swept his hand and gestured at the sea.
“You can’t really get anything done in a town like this, can you?”
WHEN YOU KNOW TOO MUCH AND CAN DO TOO LITTLE
If there is a notable skyscraper– let alone many in one downtown– that’s owned by an honest, down to earth, mom and pop corporation, please let me know. Because the majority of the buildings I’ve come to love have been passed from one giant, corporate entity to another.
While these entities have been getting bigger, and arguably more evil, there’s never been a time where looking out over a city skyline represented the aspirations of the common man. I know a lot of people who don’t like tall buildings. Many residents of Bellingham for example, seem to confuse density for gentrification. The platonic ideal of American life being a single family home and a car, and height is a threat to that.
Smith Tower’s acquisition by Goldman Sachs is gross, but hardly new. Many of my favorite buildings in town have been sold and resold. I’ll always think of ______ as the Washington Mutual Building. Fuck calling it Mo’Pop. It’s always going to be the EMP.
There is nothing I can do about buildings owned by entities I have issues with. To be honest? I like the spheres. Seattle has always had a fascination with Sci Fi and the future, and a few biodomes add to the flavor.
People only call them “Bezos’ Balls” because they know who built it. And because it’s funny.
I miss when I could just enjoy buildings for how they looked, when I could dissociate from their ownership, the capital, and its effects around the world. I aggressively, purposefully, will not let the bankers steal the joy I find in the sunset over Puget Sound, light bouncing off the Columbia Tower.
THE ONLY WAY TO GO IS UP
My Grandpa was a defense lawyer who moved here as a child. Seattle runs in my family.
As nature depletes, more land becomes unusable, and population grows, the only thing humans can do is move closer together, share resources, and frequently build up. Density and urbanism have been embraced by those concerned about climate change for years. But I’d be lying if I said that’s why I like cities; it’s more realistic to say that I was five years old and my Dad drove me from our home in Capitol Hill downtown and pointed out various buildings, that I was a kid who wanted nothing more to ride the elevator up the Space Needle and point out our neighborhood from the top.
Last time my Dad drove me around Seattle, we cut through some lanes in South Lake Union and took the freeway south. We talked about the city’s ever growing population, the need for a more effective tax system, and the buildings. So many new ones.
With a mix of sadness and wonder, my own father looked out over the cranes and glistening glass and recalled Grandpa.
“If my Dad could see this city now.”
Also published on Medium.