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When they first constructed this 50 story black obelisk in downtown Seattle, it was the tallest thing around. It dwarfed Smith Tower, and edged out the Space Needle by just enough that it was nicknamed "the box the Space Needle came in." Wikipedia will tell you that it was the first modern Class-A office building in Seattle, but that doesn't tell you how gorgeous this building is.
Once again, NBBJ comes to the front as the architect of choice for unique buildings. Its large two-story lobby (go in and look around sometime if you never have) surrounding austere white marble clad elevator banks give the inside an airy lightness that works nicely against the dark exterior. The escalators in the back of the building lead down to the lower lobby on 4th avenue, which is a nice mid-century modern spot to sit and eat on a rainy day. The front of the building is dominated by the glassine latticework of the Central Library.
There's a story about that library, possibly apocryphal. After the old building was demolished, Rem Koolhaus, recently commissioned, had come to Seattle to inspect the site, and glean inspiration for the new design. Standing on the mound, he looked down into the lobby of Safeco Plaza, and saw, through the windows, a painting by Sam Francis. It was a massive abstract whose canvas dominated the space, filling up the expanse of wall behind the guard stations. That painting inspired Koolhaus's exterior pattern of the library (which, incidentally, then inspired our logo).
The painting — and also the sculpture out front of the building on 5th Avenue by Henry Moore, titled "Vertabrae" — came from the collection of Seafirst Bank (née Seattle First National Bank), who were the original commissioners of the building we're talking about. Seafirst had an impressive art collection which was passed along to Bank of America when they bought the nearly insolvent Seafirst in 1983.
But Bank of America had no such regional affection for art. When they sold Safeco Plaza in 1986, they also sold the Henry Moore sculpture to Japanese investors. It caused such an outcry locally that Bank of America repurchased the sculpture and donated it to the Seattle Art Museum, who maintain it to this day. But that didn't stop them, in 2010, from relocating the Sam Francis painting to their own art gallery in North Carolina. That austere marble is, perhaps, now a bit too austere, missing its centering artwork.
At the top of the building is a helipad (one of two atop commercial buildings downtown), which is rarely used thanks to rezoning, and then judicious public safety caution after the accident at KOMO in 2014 that killed two and injured one. I've seen a helicopter land there, from the observation deck of Columbia Center, but that doesn't seem to be a very common event anymore. Imagine the day where important bankers were whisked away to make important deals.
Aw hell, we don't have to imagine them. We're writers. Let's create them.
"The helicopter is approaching, Mr. Brown," said his secretary, Pam. He pulled on his overcoat, loathe to leave the grand view on a day like today, where the Olympic mountains looked close enough to lick, like a snow cone. He rode the elevator up, and then waited on the staircase under the hood for the chopper to land. Ducking against the wind, he ran to the door. He was in and his belt was on when he noticed the pilot was new. He secured his headset. "Where's Frank?" he asked. The pilot, lifting off, didn't look at him. "Now, now, Mr. Brown. Let's now worry about Frank. Frank will be just fine. Let's you and me worry about other things. For example, let's worry about you surviving the next two hours."
It was the bum knee that got her. Couldn't climb worth a damn, and the whole city being hills meant she couldn't get around. No buses went from where she was to where she wanted to be. Couldn't afford a cab, even if she trusted them. Getting from Pioneer Square up to the library was tough. That mean, no books that week. Overdue fines. No checking her email. But then a buddy tipped her: starting on First, go into the Norton Building, and ride their escalator up. One block north to the Wells Fargo Tower, and you can ride those escalators up to third. Walk up to Safeco Plaza, and take those escalators up to Fourth and you'll be dropped off right across the street from the library. But then, entering Safeco Plaza on third, she heard a voice "Hey there mom, let me help you out," and a young man took her arm. She was already winded from the walking she already had to do, so she was slow on the uptake. But looking up, there he was. It couldn't be, but it was him alright. Her own Johnny. And he looked good as the day he died thirty years past.
One little slip of paper. How much it weighed. It pulled at her, like a lead blanket around her shoulders, pulled at her and made her walk slow and heavy. The elevator on the way up to her lawyers office even creaked as she rose, high above the streets of Seattle. Then, later, after some small talk and pastries, and some ceremony of signing, she handed over the check and it was gone. The whole thing was done. Years of struggle, of uncertainty, of pain. The choice was made, the money was drawn, and now she was free. And she knew exactly what the first thing she was going to do was.
On lucky days he rode the elevator with her. She was always holding a library book. Last week it was Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. The week before it was Bad Feminst by Roxane Gay. It would suck, being bothered on the elevator, by a strange dude, so he didn't act on his intense desire to talk to her. Until she started reading kids books. First, The Westing Game, and The Phantom Tollbooth, which made him want to talk to her so bad, and then finally, he had a moment when he saw her holding Bridge to Teribithia. A moment where he got choked up and his eyes watered and he stifled a sob. "Are you okay?" she asked, the elevator stopping to let a man in a gray suit off. He nodded, then, when the doors closed, said "I named my cat Leslie when I was ten." — "Oh," said the woman, not unsympathetically. And the other part he could only say in a whisper. "It was horrible. She drowned."
"That thing? It's huge." — "I know. It's like I told you." — "It's bigger than you said" — "Be that as it may, we still have to get it down" — "We can't crate it. Not that size. Won't even fit in the truck" — "We could take it off the frame, roll it up. Take the frame apart." — "That seems dangerous. Maybe they should have hired real painting people, you know? The kind that work in museums? Have white gloves?" — "Well, there you have it. You think that, and I think that, but apparently, they didn't think that, and them's the ones doing the hiring." — "What if we mess it up. They insure us?" — "Dunno. Can't say I have a bond on me, you?" — "Nope." — "Are we going to politely inform them that the job is above our capability?" — "I am planning to do no such thing." — "Nor I. So, maybe we start with getting it down. Then we can talk about how to remove it and then we can figure out how to transport it." — "Sounds like a plan. How much you think it weighs?" — "Dunno. How much can you press?" — "Never measured in paintings. I guess we'll find out."