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Family life atop the Smith Tower

The Franklin family feels at home atop one of Seattle’s most beloved landmark buildings.


Petra Franklin and her two daughters, Simone, 14, and Naomi, 11, are living any kid’s dream adventure — at least a kid who isn’t afraid of heights, that is. The trio lives in the pyramid-shaped penthouse atop Seattle’s historic 42-story Smith Tower, high above the bustling streets of Pioneer Square. Back when the Beaux-Arts tower was completed in 1914 it was the tallest building on the West Coast for nearly a half-century (it was surpassed by the Space Needle in 1962) and tallest west of the Mississippi River until 1931.


Taking in the windy view from the top.

Supposedly, creative types and a caretaker occupied the pyramid off and on through the decades, but when Franklin first saw it in 1997, it had long been uninhabited — and uninhabitable, with no stairs, plenty of leaks and dominated by a giant water tower. But once the water tower was removed, a rough-and-ready-to-renovate space was left behind.

Franklin, a choreographer-turned-venture-capitalist, signed a 20-year lease and got to work alongside architect Jim Castanes. With a tight budget, she mined the building for historic elements to repurpose, turning a large piece of marble into the kitchen counter and incorporating ornate wooden screens from the Chinese-themed banquet room as decorative elements.


The light-filled, 1,750-square-foot apartment has two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

After entering the building through the lobby’s heavy bronze doors, a set of elevators goes up 35 stories to an observation deck, which is open to the public. From there, a door marked “Private Residence” leads to the space where the family makes their home. The light-filled 1,750-square-foot apartment has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. In the living room, a massive chandelier gifted by family friend Dale Chihuly hangs overhead. Extraordinary views of the Cascades, Olympics, and Puget Sound are everywhere — the tub in the master bath lines up perfectly with a vista of Mount Rainier.

Yet the most jaw-dropping site of all is accessed via a spiral staircase, which climbs up to a small room, 10 feet in diameter, made entirely of 24 glass panels. Squint at a skyline photo of Seattle and you can see that tiny glass sphere crowning the tower’s tippy-top, looking like a fishbowl floating in the sky. For this family, that fishbowl is the most enviable reading nook of all time.

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