Jan 25, 2015

Big dreams: the Smith Tower and a little white wooden church

There are little dreams and there are big dreams. And the big dreams can be of different sizes too. The other week the Smith Tower in Seattle changed ownership. Three years ago the little white wooden church in my village was for sale.  Oh, what couldn’t I have done if they were mine!

The iconic Smith Tower turned a hundred years in July 2014. The neo classical architecture white ornamented granite and terra cotta building in Pioneer Square was at the point when it was built the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, and the first sky scraper in Seattle. It’s hard to imagine now, today you would probably think of Smith Tower as cute. 

But the characteristic 42-story building with a lower wider base and the tower with a pyramid top is a beautiful piece of art, a landmark, providing the southern bookend to Seattle’s skyscrapers. The building is crowned by an 8-foot-wide (2.4 m) glass dome illuminated by blue light, except during December when it is changed to green. And there is actually a family living in the pyramid, which contains a three story penthouse, how cool is that!

Now, a more down to earth building, so to speak, is the little white wooden church in my village. As I have told many times before it was built by my grandfather, his brother and brother in law, inaugurated in 1930. The church was the center for village gatherings for about 20 years, but the more secular the Swedes became, the less frequented was the church. For the last 15 years, pretty much the only thing happening in the church was the early Christmas morning service, and about four years ago the building was for sale.

I love this little church. For the story, for my roots, for my mother, uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather, for the village, and for the room with it’s tall windows which brings the light, and the wooden walls, floor and ceilings which provides the acoustics. I used to go there by myself in summer evenings to sing. To let my voice be carried in the empty room, safe that no one would here me. This was my private concert hall. Oh, if I could have kept it!

I am blessed with two artistic sons, a like wise nephew and his even more musical wife. Lisa is an organist, an extremely talented woman, and Johannes is a sound engineer specialized in classical music recordings. At the point when the church was for sale none of us had the means to buy it. Rephrasing, it wasn’t a lot of money, but the needs for renovation are extensive and it wasn’t for us to take on. But oh, our dreams of what we could have done with that building!

The church room itself would have been a perfect concert hall, just as it was. A small cozy venue out in the countryside, still only 20 minutes from Umeå. Great acoustics was already there. Lisa dreamt about installing a church organ of course. There is a raw attic above the kitchen and the smaller room, probably originally meant for the traveling pastors, but never finished. It’s quite a large space, perfect for office and a sound studio for Johannes. Ah, we would have turned the sleeping beauty into a vibrant cultural setting for concerts, arts and recording, bringing our grandparents and great great parents dreams into the 21st century! 

So, what would I do with the Smith Tower, in 1914 the fourth-tallest building in the world and, for nearly 50 years, the West Coast’s tallest? A building containing mostly office space, and in 2012 sold at a foreclosure auction for merely nothing, $ 35, 795 million, since it by then had a vacancy by 86,5%.  That’s when I had my chance, a pretty much empty historic building! It’s been picking up since then and was last week purchased for $ 73,73 million. Shoot!

Well, to start with I would move in to the pyramid penthouse, no doubt about i! I have always desired a Seattle downtown penthouse, and this would be the ultimate one for sure!

Then, since this is thee big dream among the big ones, it is so completely unreal (yeah, I don’t have hubris and I am well aware of the fact that I am spending my life on a couch in my village home, I mean it’s not even a dream, it’s just silly) haven’t really dived too deep in to my desires. I mean, it’s pretty easy to stand in front of the little white wooden church in my village and start drawing even the fine lines. Looking up the Smith Tower I would say is a bit overwhelming.

But. Except for living in the penthouse, I think I would turn it into a creative hubbub. I would make it thee creative hubbub of Seattle. Make it thee place and melting pot for all kinds of artists. Writers, photographers, painters, illustrators, actors, film people, musicians, designers, you name it. There would be studios, labs, dark rooms (yes, old fashioned dark rooms!), rehearsal locations, any kind of professional space that anyone in the creative zone would need. And yes, KCTS (the Seattle public service TV station would move in there and I would provide them the resources they would need to produce and broadcast quality local news every day(Swedes, you won’t understand this)!

And this would be perfect even on a personal level, since most of my Seattle friends would be working in the building!

There Maria, now you are done dreaming. The little white wooden church is well taken care of by another village woman. And there is always the Observation Deck and the Chinese Room in the Smith Tower to enjoy, as a citizen or a tourist. As well as the elevators, the only ones in Seattle operated not only by a voice, but by real people. And that’s nice. That’s very nice.


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