On January 25, 1986, one of the most iconic symbols of Seattle, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer globe, takes up residence on top of the newspaper's new headquarters at 101 Elliott Avenue West. This is the second site for the massive neon globe. It was first installed on November 9, 1948, on the roof of the paper's Belltown headquarters at 6th Avenue and Wall Street (that building later became home to City University).
"It's in the P-I"
The neon structure consists of three parts -- an impressive dark-blue globe with the continents outlined in green neon, an eagle perched on top with its wings spread overhead, and a banner sign that revolves around the globe's midline proclaiming the paper's well-known slogan, "It's in the P-I," each capital letter measuring eight feet tall. P-I publisher Virgil Fassio (1927-2018) was present when the huge structure was installed atop the paper's new home on Elliott Avenue:
"I took my first look inside the 13.5-ton, 30-foot neon globe with ... its 18-foot Eagle, a Hearst Newspapers feature, in 1986. It was beginning to show minor signs of wear, but was in good condition. The only way to move it to its new home on the waterfront was by helicopter. It was an awesome spectacle" (Fassio email).
The P-I's Belltown Headquarters
In the 1940s, the Belltown neighborhood north of downtown Seattle was home to car dealerships, parking lots, motels, and other businesses. The Hearst Corporation, owners of the P-I since 1921, purchased the entire block at 6th and Wall and hired the New York engineering firm of Lockwood Greene to design the new headquarters with Seattle architect Henry Bittman (1882-1953) as the local contact. Founded in 1881, the P-I had been located at 6th Avenue and Pine Street since Hearst acquired it in 1921.
Hearst needed a building large enough to house the paper's administrative and news offices and also accommodate its printing presses. As described in a report prepared in 2012 in conjunction with the globe's designation as a historical landmark:
"Lockwood Greene (now a subsidiary of CH2M Hill) is the country's oldest design firm, founded in 1832, and probably had extensive experience in meeting the specific needs of a major newspaper printing plant. The plant was technologically and architecturally designed to suit the varied needs of a large publishing operation, with sturdy construction to support large printing presses, a load dock for delivery trucks and spaces for a news room, administrative offices and other departments" (Gordon, 8).
UW Art Student Wins Design Contest
The building was designed in the Moderne style, which is related to Art Deco, stylish and streamlined:
"Wilkeson sandstone, a product of the state, and black granite predominate in the exterior finish. There are long expanses of windows. The face of the circular tower at the main entrance is in glass from sidewalk to roof. The entrance is set back from the street, with shrubs in the intervening space. In the main lobby are two murals by Eustace Paul Ziegler, Seattle artist. A third mural is in the reception room ... The murals tell the story of newsprint production from forest to mill" ("Post-Intelligencer in ...").
Other building features included a 300-seat auditorium, a restaurant, and a library, along with rooftop parking "for automobiles taken aloft by a freight elevator" ("Post-Intelligencer in ...)".
The enormous globe was not part of the original design, but the building's flat roof was perfect for some kind of exterior installation. In 1947 the P-I held a contest soliciting ideas for the façade. More than 350 entries were submitted.
The winner was a University of Washington art student named Jack (also spelled "Jakk") C. Corsaw (1920-1990), whose idea was to create a curved map of the world. A series of flashing lines of light would connect Seattle to areas around the world where news was happening. Perhaps the design was too challenging to execute, because Corsaw's idea was revised by members of the P-I's art department, who turned the map into a globe and added the eagle and the slogan.
Fabricating the Globe
The globe was built and installed by the Pacific Car and Foundry Company of Renton, in south King County, later known as PACCAR. The original contract was signed in June 1948 and revised once, reducing the cost from $27,831 to $25,932.
Pacific Car was proud of the role it played in the globe's fabrication and installation, placing an advertisement in the P-I on January 2, 1949, the day before the building opened to the public.
"Its manufacture exemplifies the diversity in our departments and divisions ... It required special attention in our own complete engineering and testing departments. Wooden templates were cut in our woodworking mills; its steel skin was stretched in our motor coach divisions; its ribs were welded and riveted and the structure was assembled in our Seattle plant. It was hoisted into place by our steel erection crew" (Gordon, 9).
The letters for the slogan and the neon tubing were created by Electrical Products Consolidated, one of the region's pioneering neon firms. The colors produced were exceptionally rich and vibrant, thanks to the use of colored glass tubing instead of clear tubing, which is a less-expensive option. Electrical Products' president George Comstock was quoted as saying: "The most complicated sign in the West ... comparing favorably with the elaborate signs in New York. It is by far the most spectacular sign in the Northwest and one that is sure to become a Seattle landmark" (Gordon, 9).
The 6th and Wall plant began publishing the Seattle P-I on December 6, 1948. The building opened to the public on January 3, 1949.
Move to the Waterfront
Decades later, as the P-I struggled in its competition with The Seattle Times, the two rivals negotiated a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) -- a federally approved arrangement designed to help maintain multiple news outlets in a market -- under which the Times took over responsibility for the P-I's advertising, circulation, production, and most business functions, while the P-I's newsroom remained an independent operation. After the JOA was implemented in the early 1980s, the Hearst Corporation no longer needed a building to produce the paper but only one sufficient to accommodate its news and editorial departments, promotion, data processing and administrative offices. The company decided to sell the Belltown building and lease space elsewhere in the city.
Virgil Fassio, who had joined the P-I as general manager in 1976 and became publisher two years later, recalled of the search for a new building:
"Many sites were available inside other buildings which would lose the newspaper's identity and give the appearance of being a part of the Seattle Times. David Sabey, a real-estate developer, had grown-up as an admirer of the P-I and built a five-story building at 101 Elliott Avenue West, adjacent to Myrtle Edwards Park, essentially on Seattle's waterfront. It was a perfect location. Above all, he wanted the old-English logo of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer above the entrance as the building's name, even though the P-I would lease only the second and third floors and he wanted the P-I Globe installed on the roof" (Fassio email).
Beautiful as it was, the huge globe was expensive to maintain. Its neon tubes needed regular repair, especially during the winter months when ice would melt and slide down the sides of the globe, taking out some of the neon tubing as it went. Decades of normal exposure to the elements had faded the paint and weakened parts of the globe, as well. Some small areas had rusted completely through.
Nevertheless, the globe moved with the P-I news staff. In October 1985 it was removed from the roof of the 6th and Wall building. On January 25, 1986, the iconic globe was carefully installed on the roof of 101 Elliott Avenue West, its new location above the Elliott Bay waterfront perhaps more prominent than its original site in Belltown. As it turned out, the globe would remain at the location longer than the newspaper it advertised.
The Globe's Future
The P-I's print edition ended in March 2009, although it kept publishing online at seattlepi.com. In 2012, the staff moved out of the 101 Elliott Avenue building and continued to operate as a news website. In April 2012, the globe was designated as a historical landmark by the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, and the structure was donated to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) through an agreement between the city and the Hearst Corporation.
As of mid-2018, however, the globe remained on the Elliott Avenue rooftop, with no decision about its permanent home yet made -- no surprise, given a cost estimate of more than $1 million for a move. A MOHAI spokesperson wrote:
"The P-I Globe is one of Seattle's signature icons and MOHAI continues to work with Hearst to explore its continued preservation. In 2015, Hearst sold the PI building to new owners, who have agreed to allow the Globe to remain in its longtime location atop the building at this time" (Malloy email).