Columbia Center
Columbia center from smith tower.jpg
Seen from Smith Tower in August 2007
Columbia Center is located in Seattle WA Downtown
Columbia Center
Location within downtown Seattle
Former namesBank of America Tower
Columbia Seafirst Center
Record height
Tallest in Seattle and Washington state since 1985[I]
Preceded bySafeco Plaza
General information
TypeCommercial offices
Location701 Fifth Avenue
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Coordinates47°36′16″N 122°19′50″W / 47.60453°N 122.33069°W / 47.60453; -122.33069Coordinates: 47°36′16″N 122°19′50″W / 47.60453°N 122.33069°W / 47.60453; -122.33069
Construction started1982
CompletedJanuary 12, 1985
OpenedMarch 2, 1985
CostUS$200 million (approx. $504 million in 2021 dollars[1])
OwnerGaw Capital Partners
Architectural933 ft (284 m)
Tip967 ft (295 m)
Roof937 ft (286 m)
Observatory902 ft (275 m)
Technical details
Floor count76
(76 & 7 below ground)
Floor area1,538,000 sq ft (142,900 m2)
Design and construction
Architect(s)Chester Lindsey Architects
DeveloperMartin Selig
Structural engineerMagnusson Klemencic Associates (formerly Skilling Helle Christiansen Robertson)
Main contractorHoward S. Wright Construction

The Columbia Center, formerly named the Bank of America Tower and Columbia Seafirst Center, is a skyscraper in downtown Seattle, Washington, United States. The 76-story structure is the tallest building in Seattle and the state of Washington, reaching a height of 933 ft (284 m). At the time of its completion, the Columbia Center was the tallest structure on the West Coast; as of 2017, it is the fourth-tallest, behind buildings in Los Angeles and San Francisco.[7]

The Columbia Center, developed by Martin Selig and designed by Chester L. Lindsey Architects, began construction in 1982 and was completed in 1985. The building is primarily leased for class-A office spaces by various companies, with the lower floors including retail space and the upper floors featuring a public observatory and private club lounge.[2] The tower has the highest public viewing area west of the Mississippi River. It occupies most of the block bounded by Fourth and Fifth Avenues and Cherry and Columbia Streets.[8]


Columbia Center was designed by Washington architect Chester L. Lindsey.[9] The base of the building is clad in Rosa Purino Carnelian granite. The building's structure is composed of three geometric concave facades with two setbacks, causing the building to appear like three towers standing side by side.[10]

Ground level elevation on the Fifth Avenue side of the building is higher than on the Fourth Avenue side; the part of Cherry Street it faces was identified as one of the steepest streets in the Central Business District with a slope of 17.1%.[11] The tower was originally designed to be about 306.5 m (1,006 ft), but federal regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would not allow it to be that tall so close to the nearby Sea-Tac Airport. Although city land use regulations at the time were intended to limit skyscrapers to about 50 stories, the developer, Martin Selig, obtained the necessary permits for a 76-story skyscraper due to a part of the law that allowed bonus height for providing retail space with street access. Because three separate stories could access the street on the sloped site, the developers were allowed a bonus for each of the three stories they set aside for retail, which was reportedly an unintended loophole in the law.[12][13] There is an observation deck on the 73rd floor which offers views of Seattle and environs. The top two floors of the building (75th and 76th) are occupied by the private Columbia Tower Club, which houses a restaurant, bar, library, and meeting rooms. An underground concourse connects the building to the nearby Seattle Municipal Tower and Bank of America Fifth Avenue Plaza.

The tower, originally proposed as Columbia Center, opened under the name Columbia Seafirst Center after its largest tenant and financier, Seafirst Bank, and then changed to the Bank of America Tower, when Seafirst, which had been owned by Bank of America since 1983, was fully integrated into Bank of America. That name gave it the nickname "BOAT" (Bank of America Tower). In November 2005, the building's name was changed back to Columbia Center after the bank reduced its presence in the building. Bank of America still maintains office space within the building, but has since closed the bank branch at the base of the tower.[14]


Development and construction

Under construction in late 1983
Under construction in late 1983

Martin Selig, a local real estate developer who had recently opened the Fourth and Blanchard Building, announced plans for a 75-story office building at 4th Avenue and Columbia Street in October 1980. The $120 million project, named the "Columbia Center", would be funded by the Seafirst Mortgage Company and constructed by Howard S. Wright.[15][16] Selig borrowed $205 million in 1981 to develop the property.[13] The Columbia Seafirst Center, as it came to be known, was constructed by Howard S. Wright starting in 1982 with a 120-foot (37 m) deep excavation hole that required 225,000-cubic-yards of dirt and soil to be removed. This was one of the largest foundations for a building in Seattle along with concrete footings extending 134 feet (41 m) below street level. While the structural steel of the building was built at a rate of 2 floors per week, the building itself was completed on January 12, 1985,[10] and opened on March 2 of that same year.[9] U.S. Steel Corporation was contracted to provide 16,000 short tons (15,000 t) of steel for construction.[17] It was approximately 50% taller than the previous tallest skyscraper in Seattle, the 630-foot (190 m) Seattle First National Bank Building (now Safeco Plaza) that opened in 1969.

The Columbia Center (then Columbia Seafirst Center) under construction circa 1983.
The Columbia Center (then Columbia Seafirst Center) under construction circa 1983.

Financial issues and height controversy

Selig continued to own and manage the building until 1989, when financial problems forced him to sell it to Seafirst Corporation for $354 million.[18] Management was taken over by the Tishman West Company of Los Angeles.[19]

Controversy regarding the skyscraper's size contributed to the passage of a 1989 law called the Citizen's Alternative Plan (CAP) that enforced more stringent restrictions on the size of buildings in Downtown Seattle.[20] In 1990, after rejecting earlier plans for 300-foot (91 m) antennas,[21] Seattle and the FAA granted permission to erect two 192-foot (59 m) antennas on top of Columbia Center, which were expected to be used for broadcasting radio and television throughout the region.[22] Though the FAA was originally worried about the tower's height encroaching the airspace, they deemed the addition of the antennas not problematic.[22] The antennas were not built before the permits expired in 1994, however.[23]

Ownership changes

EQ Office bought Columbia Center from Seafirst in 1998 for $404 million.[24] The New York State Common Retirement Fund bought a 49.9% stake in the building and then several years later sold its share back to EQ Office.[25][26] In 2007, Columbia Center was sold by EQ Office to Boston-based Beacon Capital Partners for $621 million;[27] Beacon later defaulted on a loan in 2010, the height of the Great Recession, at a time when vacancies reached 40%.[28] On August 7, 2015, Hong Kong-based Gaw Capital Partners purchased the building for $711 million.[29][30]


On July 1, 2013, the Columbia Center's observation deck, known as the Sky View, was remodeled from 270 degrees to a 360 degree viewing area.[31] The observation deck underwent further renovations in 2018, adding two express elevators and a new lounge. The 4th Avenue entrance was also renovated.[32]

September 11 attacks

On June 16, 2004, the 9/11 Commission reported that the original plan for the September 11 attacks called for the hijacking of 10 planes, to be crashed into targets including the "tallest buildings in California and Washington state," which would have been the Columbia Center and the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles.[33] However, the attacks occurred in Washington, D.C., New York City and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, respectively, instead.


Columbia Center plays host to the largest on-air firefighter competition in the world, the LLS Firefighter Stairclimb. About 2,000 firefighters from around the world yearly make the trek up 69 floors and 1,311 steps in full structural turnout gear while on-air. This event benefits the Washington/Alaska chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma society.[34]

Big Climb is the sister event to the LLS Firefighter Stairclimb. About 6,000 participants race and climb to the top of Columbia Center, raising more than $3 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This event is open to the public and anyone 8 years of age or older can participate.


See also


  1. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved April 16, 2022.
  2. ^ a b "Emporis building ID 119427". Emporis. Archived from the original on October 18, 2015.
  3. ^ Columbia Center at Glass Steel and Stone (archived)
  4. ^ "Columbia Center". SkyscraperPage.
  5. ^ Columbia Center at Structurae
  6. ^ "Columbia Center". The Skyscraper Center. Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
  7. ^ "Los Angeles Buildings". Emporis. Archived from the original on March 21, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2017.
  8. ^ "Sky View Observatory". Archived from the original on January 24, 2018. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  9. ^ a b Susan Phinney (August 18, 2003). "Chester Lindsey dead at 76: Architect changed look of Seattle's skyline". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  10. ^ a b "Bank of America Tower (formerly Columbia Seafirst Tower)". Howard S. Wright. Archived from the original on January 16, 2016. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  11. ^ "Steep Streets in Seattle". Seattle Department of Transportation. Retrieved June 11, 2012.
  12. ^ Terry Finn (May 3, 1984). "Building towers over Seattle". Anchorage Daily News. UPI.
  13. ^ a b Timothy Egan (June 29, 1986). "Creating An Office Empire". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Tom Boyer (November 22, 2005). "Region's loftiest building renamed". Seattle Times.
  15. ^ Lane, Polly (October 28, 1980). "75-story office tower planned for downtown". The Seattle Times. p. A1.
  16. ^ "Selig gets permit for Columbia Center". The Seattle Times. December 10, 1981. p. C30.
  17. ^ "U.S. Steel Move Draws Fire". The New York Times. AP. February 26, 1983.
  18. ^ Bill Dietrich (November 20, 1989). "Selig Undaunted After Selling His Seattle Skyscraper". Los Angeles Times.
  19. ^ "Tishman West To Manage Columbia Seafirst Center". Seattle Times. February 2, 1990.
  20. ^ Harriet King (November 26, 1989). "Project Tailored To Space Limits". The New York Times.
  21. ^ "Height plan reduced on Seattle towers". UPI. August 7, 1984.
  22. ^ a b Robert T. Nelson (January 5, 1990). "Tallest Building To Reach Higher -- City Issues Permit For Seafirst Antennas". Seattle Times.
  23. ^ "Taller antennas sought for Columbia Center". Puget Sound Business Journal. August 6, 1999.
  24. ^ James, Andrea (October 13, 2006). "Interested in share of 76-story tower?". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  25. ^ Martinez, Amy (October 13, 2006). "Pension fund puts stake in Columbia Center up for sale". Seattle Times.
  26. ^ "Grand Re-Opening at one of Seattle's Biggest Landmark's – Columbia Tower Club!". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. November 7, 2012.
  27. ^ "Seattle's Columbia Center cost $621 million". Seattle Times. April 25, 2007.
  28. ^ Eric Pryne (March 24, 2010). "Columbia Center misses mortgage payment". Seattle Times.
  29. ^ Stiles, Marc (August 7, 2015). "Columbia Center sells to Hong Kong company for $711 million". Puget Sound Business Journal. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  30. ^ Bhatt, Sanjay (August 7, 2015). "Columbia Center sold to Hong Kong investors". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 8, 2015.
  31. ^ "Columbia Center renovates observatory, views will span 360 degrees".
  32. ^ Brodeur, Nicole (June 16, 2018). "Visit Sky View Observatory on top of Seattle's tallest tower". The Seattle Times. Retrieved June 16, 2018.
  33. ^ "Outline of the 9-11 Plot, Staff Statement No. 16" (PDF). National Commission on Terrorist Attacks. June 16, 2004: 13. Retrieved June 10, 2012. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  34. ^ "Firefighters climb Columbia Tower, raise funds for cancer research". Komo News. Retrieved July 25, 2018.