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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.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

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.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

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.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

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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