The cornerstone for the Northern Life Tower in Seattle is laid on August 10, 1928.

  • By Dotty DeCoster
  • Posted 12/02/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9635

On August 10, 1928, a large civic ceremony installing and dedicating the cornerstone of the new Northern Life Tower is held in downtown Seattle.  The celebration comes mid-way between groundbreaking for the building in February and occupation the following March. The Seattle Daily Times covers the event in full, perhaps because Times editor and publisher Colonel Clarence B. Blethen (1879-1941) gives one of the speeches.  His words for the day: "It is the inanimate things that live, not the animate ones. ... The men who are building this tower will come to the end of their span, but the institution it represents will go on" (Times). 

Northern Life Tower

The Northern Life Insurance Company was founded in Seattle in 1905 by brothers David Bruce Morgan (1869-1943) and Tasso Mayne Morgan (1862-1918). The business continued to be family-operated through two generations, was sold in 1977, and has disappeared through various mergers since. 

The Northern Life Tower -- in August 1928 just foundation, steel columns, and framework up to 24 stories -- would reach 327 feet in height and become Seattle's beacon skyscraper for decades.  Now called the Seattle Tower, in 2010 it remains a beloved Art Deco landmark at the southeast corner of 3rd Avenue and University Street.  

Laying the Stone 

Col. Blethen was only one of many speakers at the cornerstone ceremony on August 10, 1928.  Rev. Dr. Cleveland Kledhauer of University Christian Church gave the invocation and introductory remarks were made by E. H. Hatch, president of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.  Nathan Eckstein (1873-1945), Schwabachers & Co. president, and M. Lyle Spencer, president of the University of Washington, also spoke.  (The Northern Life Tower was built adjacent to the University Tract, sometimes called the Metropolitan Tract, the home to the University of Washington until 1895 and a continuing source of income for the University.)   

Two vice presidents of the Northern Life Insurance Company, F. K. Struve and Arthur P. Johnson, deposited historical data in a copper box that was placed in the cornerstone.  The stone was laid by D. B. Morgan, company president and co-founder.  State Insurance Commissioner H. O. Fishback, tower architect Abraham H. Albertson (1872-1964), and contractor Henry Lohse also took part in the ceremony.  Organized labor was represented by David Levine, president of the Central Labor Council, and J. W. Maxwell, president of the Clearing House Association of Seattle.


Sources: Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Pub. Co.,1929), 5-17; "Northern Life Ceremony to Be Held," Seattle Daily Times, August 10, 1928, pp. 1, 4; "Seattle Tower Sold to N.Y. Firm," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 22, 1986, p. B-11; Cecelia Goodnow, "Ring in the Old: The 1929 Seattle Tower is Being Restored to Its Original Glory," Ibid., January 1, 1990, p. C-1.

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