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April 2020
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CityLink Seattle

80th Anniversary of Seattle Center Armory Grand Opening

The Seattle National Guard Armory opened on April 16, 1939, making this the 80th anniversary of the building’s opening. The monumental Streamlined Modern building, with its 18-inch thick walls, has served many governmental and community purposes during its long life. Now as it enters its next chapter, it is undergoing exterior and entryway upgrades, new lighting and signage and a newly named gathering place, the Seattle Center Armory Food & Event Hall, where thousands of community and entertainment events happen throughout the year, along with a broad selection of locally sourced eateries, attract millions of visitors.

At the time of its construction, the building was recognized as the most modern of its kind in the United States, with its poured-in-place concrete and plywood forms that allowed for a variety of architectural façade effects. The basement originally contained a swimming pool and firing range. Well known Seattle architects Floyd Naramore and Arrigo M. Young designed the facility, and the City of Seattle donated the land. The project cost $1.25 million, funded by the State of Washington (55%) and a federal Public Works Administration grant (45%).

In its infancy, the Armory served as a training facility for Seattle-based units the 146th Regiment of Field Artillery, with spaces large enough to accommodate their half-ton tanks, and the 66th Field Artillery Brigade and the Washington headquarters of the 41st Division of the National Guard. After World War II, the building hosted boat and home shows and athletic events. In 1948, it housed the “Canwell hearings” held by the Joint Fact-finding Committee on Unamerican Activities to identify organizations that harbored members of the Communist Party.

Civic organizers transformed the building into the “Food Circus” for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, when the Armory took its distinguished place as America’s first vertical shopping mall. The facility continued to house food and retail concessions after the Fair. In the early 1970s, it was renamed Center House. The City of Seattle acquired the Armory from the National Guard and through the 1980s, a combination of food, retail and entertainment uses prevailed. The Children’s Museum, Seattle moved into the first floor in 1985. A police facility was added in 1986. The building was renovated and reconfigured in 1995 to emphasize free family entertainment and cultural festivals. In 2012, additional renovations stripped away years of accumulated design to reveal the original lines and support structures, updating the food amenities with distinctive, local eateries.

A diverse assortment of community organizations and Seattle Center Productions present an average of 3,000 free public performances in Seattle Center Armory each year, from child-oriented, cultural entertainment during winter and spring public school breaks to 23 weekend ethnic cultural festivals presented through a community partnership called Seattle Center Festál. Seattle Center Winterfest occupies the sky-lit Food & Event Hall between Thanksgiving and New Year, and Northwest Folklife Festival, Bite of Seattle, Bumbershoot and a host of other events make use of the massive interior space, making it the most visited destination on the Seattle Center grounds.

The building is closed to the public now because of COVID-19. When it opens, it will continue in the tradition of a grand civic gathering place as it primes and polishes to take on an expanded role anticipated with the opening of the New Arena at Seattle Center in mid-2021. To learn more about the history of Seattle Center, visit www.seattlecenter.com or call (206) 684-7200.

About Seattle Center: Connect to the extraordinary at Seattle Center, an active civic, arts and family gathering place in the core of our region. More than 30 cultural, educational, sports and entertainment organizations that reside on the grounds, together with a broad range of public and community programs, create thousands of events on the 74-acre campus and attract over 12 million visitors each year. At Seattle Center, part of Uptown Arts & Cultural District, our purpose is to create exceptional events, experiences and environments that delight and inspire the human spirit to build stronger communities. Activities at the Center generate $1.86 billion in business activity and $631 million in labor income.

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