[graphic heading] Seattle: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary, National Park Servicer

Northern Life Tower
The Northern Life Insurance Company was founded in Seattle by D. B. and T. M. Morgan, with assets of $170,232 and a 12 by 12 foot office in the Colman Building. As the firm prospered, it was moved to larger offices where it remained until, after the death of T. M. Morgan in 1919. D. B. Morgan then decided to construct his own building "finer than anything on the Pacific Coast." The plan to construct the building at a cost of $1.5 million was announced in April 1927. Originally a 24-story building, the Northern Life Tower was increased to 27 stories and when completed was one floor higher above sea level than the Smith Tower, which had previously been referred to as "the tallest building west of the Mississippi."

Completed in 1928, the Northern Life Tower--a true skyscraper--represents a dramatic shift in the appearance of Seattle's skyline. Earlier 20th-century buildings had derived their style from classical precedents. But by the 1920s, architects began to favor designs that attempted to emulate the speed, efficiency and power found within technology, perceived by many as humanity's hope for the future. The Northern Life Tower was the first building in Seattle to illustrate this style, now known as Art Deco or Art Moderne. Derived from Eliel Saarinen's famous, second-place proposal for the Chicago Tribune contest, the Northern Life Tower building beautifully illustrates the increasing popularity of a simple, smooth, almost machine-like exterior. This faith in progress also appeared in the lighting that once fully illuminated the building: more than 200 floodlights faded into one another in a "phantasmagoric display" meant to imitate the aurora borealis, a play on the Northern Life Insurance Company's name and an illustration of the belief that science could imitate nature's most incredible wonders. Today the lights are gone, and taller, newer skyscrapers dwarf the building, but it remains one of the Northwest's most elegant Art-Deco buildings.

The Northern Life Tower is located at 1212 3rd Ave., right across the street from the Cobb Building. The Northern Life Tower is open to the public during regular business hours.

Northern Life Tower Northern Life Tower
Photograph by Jacob E. Thomas

Previous Site | Next Site | Downtown Map | List of Sites | Seattle Map | Seattle Itinerary Home | NR Home

Last Modified: EST
Comments or Questions