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Smith Tower Living
October 25, 2010 2:15 AM   Subscribe

462 feet above Seattle, a family has transformed the top of the Smith Tower into their rather fantastic residence. Slideshow here.

A separate firsthand account of the space explains why no one but the rare caretaker lived there until recently:
When the Smith Tower was built in 1914, the 37th floor was designed as an apartment for a caretaker, hidden underneath a cast-iron tank holding 10,000 gallons of water. In the 1990s, during a major renovation of the Smith Tower, the tank was drained and removed, and the apartment turned into a two-story penthouse.
posted by disillusioned (112 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hate the blue thing hanging from the ceiling in this otherwise fabulous home.
posted by bardophile at 2:22 AM on October 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Here is a distant exterior shot that includes the building at night. They used to illuminate the dome on top in purple light; I don't know if they still do that or not.
posted by Tube at 2:27 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Man, extremely rich people have all the fun.
posted by dudekiller at 2:40 AM on October 25, 2010 [26 favorites]


I know a guy in santa monica that sleeps on top of the roof of a restaurant. Do you think the journalists at nyt will wanna profile him?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:43 AM on October 25, 2010


Haters gotta hate.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:49 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


"... a family has transformed the top of the Smith Tower into their rather fantastic residence".

What's the opposite of eponysterical?
posted by bwg at 2:58 AM on October 25, 2010


Haters gotta hate.

Analysis has concluded that haterade is composed chiefly of of damn you jealous.





(and I am sooooooo jealous right now.)
posted by louche mustachio at 3:07 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is that blue thing a Dale Chihuly blue thing?




I like that blue thing.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:09 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


"But how did Ms. Franklin really get here? That is, how did this 46-year-old choreographer-turned-venture-capitalist-turned-no-nanny mom win a long-term lease on what may be the most extraordinary apartment in the city" [..]

"It was one of those little hidden gems,” Mr. Willis said. “Everybody wanted it, but it was almost impossible to get.” [...]

Mr. Justen was won over by Ms. Franklin’s sales pitch: he would later help found Vault Capital and also officiate at her wedding.

The New York Times sure does use a lot of words to say "connections" and "money." Nice apartment, though.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:15 AM on October 25, 2010 [19 favorites]


The 'fantastic residence' link is asking me for a log in. This is not fantastic.
posted by IvoShandor at 3:30 AM on October 25, 2010


i always thought living in the residence atop this building would be cool ... but i wasn't willing to try to get qualified.
posted by lester at 4:00 AM on October 25, 2010


ivoshandor: the link would work if the band U2 visited you more occasionally.
posted by msconduct at 4:07 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Nice crib.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:09 AM on October 25, 2010


I don't like it. At all. It strikes me as both cluttered and a useless waste of space. I hate the blue thing. And I'd hate to live above 37 floors of nothing-much-at-all.

And the sight of those kids next to those windows - no matter how reinforced they are - makes my knees go wobbly.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:38 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Damn, beat me to it. This would have been something neat and cool, but the whole thing came off as massive assjerks showing off.
That's the New York Times Style section for you. Pretty sure it's a running joke/decade long troll to the people who write it, if not the people they cover.
posted by caek at 4:51 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather hang out with this family in their sweet house than with the jealous pricks in this thread.
posted by windbox at 4:58 AM on October 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Awesome space, the views must be amazing. That's really what a place like that would be all about. I like the marble counter top she scavenged from the abandoned offices.
posted by empyrean at 4:59 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's kind of cool to see the design things that rich people do but I would be a lot more interested in seeing appealing homes of people who had to stretch their money more creatively.

(And that does not mean trust fund hipsters in Williamsburg studios NYT)
posted by ghharr at 5:00 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I totally was about to post this yesterday and got distracted and now I'm glad that I didn't since the discussion here is so terrible.
posted by octothorpe at 5:07 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


the term 'no-nanny mom' soured the entire thing for me. i mean, are we supposed to be giving her a medal for raising her kids without hired help? or maybe we're supposed to believe that bono babysits occasionally?
posted by msconduct at 5:11 AM on October 25, 2010 [16 favorites]


I think anyone who reads the article and claims they are not jealous is a liar. I think anyone who reads the article and doesn't find the residents loathsome didn't read the article.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:21 AM on October 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather hang out with this family in their sweet house than with the jealous pricks in this thread.

Rich people are awesome people to be friends with.
posted by empath at 5:26 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


the term 'no-nanny mom' soured the entire thing for me.

Apparently the writer thought it was notable that people with money might raise their own kids. It says more about the writer than it does her. Anyway, I think it's stupid that the article even goes into as much depth about her as it does. Apparently that just distracts people from appreciating the space itself, which is at least a little more interesting. I'd live there, quirky layout or not.
posted by empyrean at 5:26 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


This looks like a wonderful space, but I'm not sure about living in it. Is there a balcony or patio? A yard to stretch out in would be really nice. Thankfully, some windows do seem to open, otherwise I'd go mad from the lack of a breeze. So yeah, it's a neat space, but *I* probably wouldn't want to live there, but would love staying for a couple of days or weeks.

The blue thing is a chandelier by Dale Chihuly. Yes, it looks out of place in that space.
posted by nomadicink at 5:27 AM on October 25, 2010


Is that a sex-swing in the living room?
posted by swift at 5:31 AM on October 25, 2010


Is there a balcony or patio? A yard to stretch out in would be really nice.

Other kids to play with?

posted by empath at 5:31 AM on October 25, 2010


I think anyone who reads the article and doesn't find the residents loathsome didn't read the article.

I thought the use of the c-word in this thread to describe the owners was a bit much - then I read the article. And... crumbs.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:40 AM on October 25, 2010


This might cheer you up some:

unhappy hipsters
posted by etherist at 5:45 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think anyone who reads the article and doesn't find the residents loathsome didn't read the article.

I don't know why. So she comes from money and has been moving in high society circles since she was kid, that doesn't make her evil. She hosts a lot of events in the space, liberal and progressive stuff, so cool. She found a space she liked, made deals to get it a good price and revamped it to make it into a home she loves.

Getting all het up about that seems odd to me.
posted by nomadicink at 5:50 AM on October 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


"No-nanny mom"? What, you want a cookie?

That phrase really turned me off, too.
posted by notsnot at 6:02 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Cool pad.
posted by nickyskye at 6:09 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Naomi, 3, seemed content to ride the rubber horse that zips along a climbing rope, from the kitchen to the living room.

My house doesn't have a rubber horse or a climbing rope.

Stupid house.
posted by misha at 6:09 AM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is that blue thing a Dale Chihuly blue thing?

Yeppers.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:10 AM on October 25, 2010


So this isn't about iCarly?
posted by briank at 6:13 AM on October 25, 2010


I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather hang out with this family in their sweet house than with the jealous pricks in this thread.

And yet here you are.
posted by chococat at 6:14 AM on October 25, 2010 [19 favorites]


How could you live up there and not dress like Batman?
posted by device55 at 6:15 AM on October 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


Is that a sex-swing in the living room?

That's for when U2 visits. The Louis XIV chair is for Eno to sit in and watch from afar.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:16 AM on October 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


The history of the space itself is interesting, but WOW that's a lot of name-dropping for a 3-page article.
posted by misha at 6:17 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]



I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather hang out with this family in their sweet house than with the jealous pricks in this thread.


Better do it soon -- the article made it sound like they are going to get the boot now that the building has changed ownership again.

In the UK sense of the word, I agree that those people sound like cunts. (In the much more loaded US sense of the word, not so much.) Fairly or not, they ended up looking kind of pretentious and overly self-satisfied. The space is beautiful and if I owned the building I'd be wanting to get top dollar rent for it. The whole renting it cheap to the guy's friends would strike me as pretty sketchy, if I was an investor or shareholder.
posted by Forktine at 6:22 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's a cool living space, and certainly interesting, but the location and access make me think it would be a headache to live there unless you were really dedicated to the aesthetic.

Pioneer Square is a cool place to pub crawl, but not a place I would choose to raise children.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:26 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I'm fine with being lumped in amongst the jealous.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:26 AM on October 25, 2010


Ted Maul (Chris Morris) - The roving reporter who later appears in Brass Eye, made his first appearance here as a moustachioed veteran who speaks in an overblown, aggressive way and makes big stories from other people's suffering. Memorable news reports from Ted include a report on cannibalism in the police force, and a long-running report covering commuters trapped on a train, who turn to paganism during their wait on the line.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:28 AM on October 25, 2010


Which is more loathsome: the person living in the apartment, or the person writing about it?
posted by amuseDetachment at 6:30 AM on October 25, 2010


Make no mistake, I'm jealous too. But on the other hand I have a backyard where I can plant a garden, along with a pecan tree that rains nuts every two or three years, so there's pluses and minuses, but the scales balance out from where I'm sitting. Which is the picnic table in that backyard, surrounded by fragment smells from a garden and friendly neighbor or three.
posted by nomadicink at 6:30 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Every article in the NYT style section - rich people with connections do quasi-interesting things to make you jealous, aren't they so normal!
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:59 AM on October 25, 2010


No helicopter pad? Pfft. They probably don't even have any parachutes up there.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:02 AM on October 25, 2010


The Smith Tower has very cool elevators: heavy cast bronze doors. They are some of the last surviving manual elevators around, they all have operators: "Watch your step."

The coolest elevator in Seattle is in the Maynard building. It looks like an antique guilded bird cage. Jim Halpin once did an article on the elevators of Seattle and described the Maynard elevator as the sort of elevator you would ascend to heaven in. If you are in Pioneer Square, pop in for a ride.
posted by warbaby at 7:04 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, that NYTimes article is spectacularly obnoxious, even by the Gray Lady's rarified standards.
posted by killdevil at 7:15 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't get all the hate. Yeah, so they're rich and they do doofy rich people things. They also live in a cool place and support local theater and left-leaning causes. They invite Tom Skerrit to their parties. They sound perfectly harmless. I can think of at least a thousand more offensive people.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:19 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's a place that I like looking at pictures of, but can't imagine living in. Like, kick-your-shoes-off-when-you-come-home-grab-a-beer-out-of-the-fridge living in.

Also, the idea of living in a tower, under a glass sculpture thing, in a city that will be subject to very bad earthquakes and/or volcanic eruptions, give me the heebie-jeebies.

Since I have never met the person who lives there and wouldn't trust a NYT Style reporter to accurately report...well, anything, really, I can't and won't judge the tenant. I really wish that when they do these "Hey, look at the neato living space!" they'd have a writer who knows about architecture/design write about the architecture/design of the place, and leave out anything about the person who lives there.
posted by rtha at 7:20 AM on October 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


The apartment residents' blog has much better pictures of the place scattered through it...
posted by killdevil at 7:22 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I appear to have stumbled into the forums for the Socialist Worker. Um, eat the rich! Having nice things is theft!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:32 AM on October 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


I have become somewhat afraid of heights and I also shuddered involuntarily at the photo of the child by the window.

Also, the description of the access process had to make me wonder, how do all the groveries any family needs get up there?
posted by emhutchinson at 7:34 AM on October 25, 2010


Rich people and mentions of U2. It's like a haterade parade. If visits by U2 are a condition of assjerkiness, I wonder what people think of Salman Rushdie, Bill Clinton, etc.
posted by kmz at 7:46 AM on October 25, 2010


Admiral Haddock writes "I think anyone who reads the article and claims they are not jealous is a liar. "

Four flights of stairs and a freaking ladder from your door to your residence doesn't sound jealousy worthy to me at all.
posted by Mitheral at 8:00 AM on October 25, 2010


Four flights of stairs and a freaking ladder from your door to your residence doesn't sound jealousy worthy to me at all.

Seriously. How do you even get stuff into your house if the journey involves a ladder? Like a marble slab counter top, for instance?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:06 AM on October 25, 2010


I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather hang out with this family in their sweet house than with the jealous pricks in this thread.

Except if your blood isn't blue enough to get your every life event posted in the Style Section, then you're not invited to hang out with them. Funny how that works, isn't it?
posted by 1adam12 at 8:11 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm caught between:

Metafiler: They sound perfectly harmless.

and

Metafilter: I can think of at least a thousand more offensive people.
posted by atbash at 8:14 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some more pix and video from a local TV news story.

The Smith Tower is a very cool building and used to house lots of tech startups until the failed condo conversion plan was launched by the new owners. Would love to know how long the "long term lease" is . . . the building owners, who inherited the tenant/lease, don't seem particularly thrilled by the article (no comment/hanging up the phone) and it makes me wonder if there was an ulterior motive to the publicity.
posted by donovan at 8:14 AM on October 25, 2010


I would like to point out that I am a "no-butler husband".
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 8:16 AM on October 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


The apartment residents' blog has much better pictures of the place scattered through it...
posted by killdevil


I'm confused. That appears to be a link to some creative middle-class residents of Seattle who live in an earthly home. Am I missing a subtle joke? Interesting blog nevertheless.
posted by mecran01 at 8:17 AM on October 25, 2010


I'd love that window seat and those floors, but the rest of the house makes me nervous. It's so high up! There are kids and the windows open! Where would they play? How do you get a new bed in there? What if there were a fire?

I'm too chicken to live in profilable housing, apparently.
posted by headspace at 8:20 AM on October 25, 2010


And to think I am the originator of the term "no-money bachelor" - well, I guess the phrase "no-nanny mom" counts as parody...right?
posted by antonymous at 8:23 AM on October 25, 2010


Mecran: They show photos of the view from the windows of their home, including looking down the pyramid, so you're either missing nothing or quite a lot indeed.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:26 AM on October 25, 2010


> There are kids and the windows open!

All of the windows seem to have steel bars or fencing protecting anyone from going out of them. I'd be more worried that the old chain would break and the window would bonk someone on the head.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:31 AM on October 25, 2010


It's so high up! There are kids and the windows open!

People, including children, live in high-rise apartments all the time. The tower is more dramatic, but it really isn't that much more alarming than an anonymous family living on the ninth floor of an apartment building.

Where would they play?

In the house or in a park or at a friend's house or wherever.

How do you get a new bed in there?

The power of money. Pay someone to use a crane? Tie the bed to a team of peregrine falcons and lure them in?

What if there were a fire?

burn alive lol
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:31 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh my god, you guys, Metafilter has the best discussions on the web! Thank god this isn't one of those other web forums! Schmoopy schmoopy schmoopy!
posted by Ian A.T. at 8:33 AM on October 25, 2010


[Some comments removed, some caffeine consumed, some more comments removed.]
posted by cortex at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2010 [10 favorites]


the main attraction of a night at the top of Smith Tower must be the Imax-strength views

Wait, what? A view of the real world is somehow less than the view that can be seen on a distorted bubble screen? This is like saying that being at the party was a lot less fun than hearing about it on Facebook. Or something. Congrats NYT Style Section! You have confounded and angered me again.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:46 AM on October 25, 2010


Tie the bed to a team of peregrine falcons and lure them in?

I like it! For the bed, though, I'd use bald or golden eagles - they can carry heavier stuff. But for a bundle of sheets, or perhaps a small bag of cleaning supplies or a couple of coffee cups, yeah, peregrines.
posted by rtha at 8:59 AM on October 25, 2010


lester, can you provide any more information on the residence at Chicago Temple? Is it a rectory?
posted by hydrophonic at 9:04 AM on October 25, 2010


Four flights of stairs and a freaking ladder from your door to your residence doesn't sound jealousy worthy to me at all.

Seriously. How do you even get stuff into your house if the journey involves a ladder? Like a marble slab counter top, for instance?


That's a glitch in the article-- bad editing. The stairs and the ladder go to the dome at the top, not the residence itself. There are pictures of the spiral staircase inside the apartment.

Yeah, the open windows freaked me out too, but it's just one of those primal kids-in-danger things.

I'd live here in a second, and likely so would y'all.
posted by jokeefe at 9:08 AM on October 25, 2010


So I looked at the slideshow first, and just skimmed the article. I'd furnish it differently, but other than that the space is extremely cool.
posted by bayani at 9:10 AM on October 25, 2010


I had my senior prom in the Chinese Room, which is directly underneath these guy's residence (it's the last floor before the pyramid starts, if memory serves.) There was an ornate elevator on that floor that went upward that we were intensely curious about (first any of us had heard about someone living up there!) This looks absolutely nothing like what I had pictured - I imagined a reclusive older person living alone among velvet drapes and dusty old pictures. I agree that the Chihuly sculpture is a little out of place amid all those open whitewashed beams, but it is *really* cool to see what's up there at last.
posted by heyforfour at 9:24 AM on October 25, 2010


> I agree that the Chihuly sculpture is a little out of place

Yeah, just a standalone Chihuly piece can be pretty darn ugly and really disrupt the flow of, well, just about any space that it is in. That kind of garish glass work only works well when it fills out an entire ceiling space in a dimly lit hotel lobby or something.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:27 AM on October 25, 2010


I think that place is amazing. I once had a camera crew in Seattle tell me it was haunted, so who knows? She's lived there since 1999, I think, and I'd love to know the rent. I'll bet she got it for very little, and the new owners aren't happy, which is par for the course with existing tenants vs. new landlords.

I don't think she sounds all that Mitzi-ritzy--maybe for Seattle. She's a venture capitalist, so she's either rolling in dough or flat broke.

The writer's been freelancing for the NYT for a couple of years, and I don't think he's any worse than most of their contibutors. Remember when Mimi Read got stuck with the Margaret Jones/Peggy Seltzer interview? Now, that was cringe-making.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:35 AM on October 25, 2010


Here's the explanation of how the groveries get upstairs.
posted by moonmilk at 9:36 AM on October 25, 2010


hydrophonic. yes, that's exactly what it is. It's a multi bedroom rectory atop the temple, and underneath the 'sky chapel.' i've never been there, but i did get to glimpse through a window while touring the facility.
posted by lester at 9:41 AM on October 25, 2010


Tie the bed to a team of peregrine falcons and lure them in?

I like it! For the bed, though, I'd use bald or golden eagles - they can carry heavier stuff.


Is it a matter of where they grip it, or is it a matter of weight ratios?
posted by amyms at 9:45 AM on October 25, 2010


Hey, I know the photographer. Good to see he's getting high-profile work.

The space is interesting, but I agree with those above that the decor leaves a lot to be desired. That Chihuly chandelier looks lost and angry.
posted by nikitabot at 9:51 AM on October 25, 2010


I thought it was the norm for homeowners to keep themselves private when getting profiled. Those are the kinds of rich people I can put up with.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:03 AM on October 25, 2010


Is it a matter of where they grip it, or is it a matter of weight ratios?

Weight ratios, really. Peregrines have enormous feet - they have also been called "big-footed falcons." Females can weigh up to 1600 grams, which is pretty big. But a bald can weigh up to 6300 grams, and a golden just a little less. Somewhere here there are videos linked of golden eagles knocking over and half-carrying mountain goats, so four of them could probably handle a mattress.
posted by rtha at 10:05 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I once had a camera crew in Seattle tell me it was haunted, so who knows?

I do. It's not.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:07 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm always interested in people making homes out of previously unlived-in spaces, but the most interesting part can't be seen from the home (the actual structure of the building) and obviously their taste leaves a lot to be desired (c.f, "Chihuly, Dale; chandelier; hydra; vulva; cobalt").

Next?
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 10:40 AM on October 25, 2010


Mecran: They show photos of the view from the windows of their home, including looking down the pyramid, so you're either missing nothing or quite a lot indeed.
posted by flibbertigibbet
Yes, you are correct, I misread the blog.

Picture, another, and one more.

Also, from reading the blog, I initially thought it was a group blog, because they do more cool stuff in a month than I do in a year.

I like to rag on rich people for rarely doing anything interesting with their money, or for building homes that look like office complexes, yet when we stumble across someone doing something really interesting, I get as jealous as the rest of the thread. The take home lesson is that if you have tons of money then the world becomes an amazing playground.
posted by mecran01 at 11:00 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoops, hosed the first picture link. Here is another view out of the tower.

They probably get regular visits from Max Guevera too.
posted by mecran01 at 11:02 AM on October 25, 2010


When their kids get older they can do their martial arts training in an empty water tower dojo.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:02 AM on October 25, 2010


Damn that is nice. Though I am kind of in agreement regarding the vileness of Dale Chihuly.

Are they still giving him a fucking museum where the Fun Forest used to be?
posted by Artw at 11:36 AM on October 25, 2010


My wife and I held our wedding in the Chinese Room, a story or two below the apartment. The chairs mentioned in the article, and visible in the slideshow, were in the room and we were told the same, pretty doubtful, story.
posted by mwhybark at 11:44 AM on October 25, 2010


I share the same impressions of the tone and timbre of the NYT article, but didn't really want to editorialize in the post proper with "have a look at these fucks, don't they live MAJESTICALLY?" so I left that bit out. Glad to see the thread picked up the slack.
posted by disillusioned at 11:55 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


rtha: Not just any skyscraper in an earthquake zone, but it's the oldest seattle skyscraper and it's directly on top of the seattle fault. I for one am anti-jealous (word for that?)
posted by efbrazil at 12:44 PM on October 25, 2010


Though I am kind of in agreement regarding the vileness of Dale Chihuly.

An otherwise lovely friend of mine likes Chihuly's "art." If she is ever found in a McDonalds wielding an automatic weapon, I'll be the guy on the news saying "normal? Hell, no, she wasn't normal, she liked Chihuly."

There will then be a big debate about the availability of mental health care in our society.

I like this space a lot less than I expected to. It has very interesting bones but the people living there either hired a very pedestrian interior designer or they don't have good design sense themselves.

I don't expect to be rich at this point in my life but if it somehow happens I hope I can avoid the name-dropping and such. Given my general douchebagginess, expect the worst, though.

(If I'm rich, do I have to play with Bono?)
posted by maxwelton at 12:52 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've seen him around town. He's like some angry little troll creature that's escaped from the pages of The Moomins and wanders around spreading bitterness and ill-will.
posted by Artw at 12:54 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


How dare she create the secret superhero headquarters that I dreamed up when I was eight?
One of his black-and-white photographs hangs in the hallway outside the master bedroom. It shows a young Petra in the company of two friendly-looking octogenarians. One, it turns out, is the celebrated portrait photographer Lotte Jacobi. The other is Buckminster Fuller — or, as Ms. Franklin knew him, her erstwhile baby sitter.
AUUGH I CAN'T STAND IT
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:58 PM on October 25, 2010


I agree the Chihuly is a little out of place here, but I disagree that he doesn't do good work or that his stuff isn't aesthetically pleasing. I have seen some of his work hanging in other (rich people) houses and they looked just fine. One piece I've seen was like the one pictured (hanging grapes?), but was probably 3 or 4 times larger, appeared very sturdy and hung without any doubt that it wouldn't fall short of the house collapsing.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:35 PM on October 25, 2010


> I have seen some of his work hanging in other (rich people) houses and they looked just fine.

I kind of like the Chihuly piece in one of the lobbies of the ginormous Hilton downtown. It looks like sperm trying to merge with the Egg of Light.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:40 PM on October 25, 2010


I've scoured the photos but I can't spot any courier raptor talon-marks on the furniture. Clearly the NYT photoshopped them out, but why? Did they think we couldn't handle the truth?
posted by kprincehouse at 1:43 PM on October 25, 2010


This is a bit like what Eddie Murphy discovered when he went undercover as a white man. It turns out that if you're well connected enough, people will just give you shit for free. Franklin doesn't appear to be super rich, she's just reached a level of fabulousness where money is no longer necessary.

I particularly like how she was able to "mine the rest of the building" for valueless stuff like... fucking great slabs of marble and 300 year old chinese chairs. And the building is owned by a non-profit.
posted by pascal at 1:57 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


How dare you ingrates not appreciate Dale Chihuly, a living national treasure, renowned throughout the world for the searing genius of his incredibly beautiful creations.
posted by Fleebnork at 2:43 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have conflicting feelings about this space, and I'll readily admit that a big part of it comes from the fact that we're no longer a culture that celebrates the underdog. We think we do, and we think we're this great democratic place where anyone can be a star, if we just belieeeeeeve hard enough, or work hard enough, or practice The Secret™, or pray to the right god at the right time, but the statistics really don't bear that faith out. We know this, deep down, but we're indoctrinated to aspire at all costs, because otherwise, what are we? Losers?

Still, the broadest narratives in the various media always play up the notions of heaven on earth, working that vertex between our lust and our disgust, and show off this amazing space or that amazing space, and it's always the velvet rope showstoppers they linger on most lovingly, the places you should wish you could see, because we all need the fuel to stay stuck fast in a mire of unsettling longing. It's that state, and that feeling that we just don't have enough, that keeps us all under control, because desire, like fear, makes us nicely pliable subjects.

I look at the photographs of that space, and I suppose it's a neat sort of a place, but the story isn't a story about the space. It's a story about a woman of means taking the initiative to turn a humble space into a preserve for a standardized selection of fine art™, and a story about how the rich just roll up their sleeves and muck in like the rest of us, right?

I just…well, I dunno. It's a space that isn't great because of the half-done, overthought "recycled materials" renovation, or the fact that OMG U2 CAME TO VISIT, but because it was a neat sort of space, but that's not in the article. I don't know why this woman would invite cameras to come in and go through her home and put her kid in the papers unless she really, really needed to be recognized for something, and she didn't really do anything but momentarily redirect her firehose of ready liquid assets.

Sour grapes, I guess, but not really.

I've been lucky enough to see a lot of amazing places first-hand, even though a lifetime of travel has only rarely taken me more than a few hours from Maryland. Some time back in the early eighties, my father took me up to New York on one of his business trips, and we flew, which was a big deal when the Metroliner was perfectly reasonable as a means of getting up there. I wandered the streets on my own while he was in meetings, having to mumble the manta you need to keep in mind to avoid being marked as a tourist in the city, just repeating don't look up, don't look up, don't look up, though it was usually in vain.

Over the years, we canoed out to Ellis Island when Ellis Island was still a wreck, and gotten into parts of the George Washington Bridge you're not supposed to see, and managed to get into the abandoned City Hall subway station to look, slack-jawed, at what is a buried chapel of mass transit. Hell, I've even used a public restroom in the New York subway in the seventies, which is an architectural spectacle in its own way.

"Son, what you do is take a deep breath, kick the door open, run in, but don't slip on piss and needles, open the stall with your foot, and pee as fast as you can. Don't touch anything or you'll get the crawling scabies."

"The what?"

"Never mind, just make it quick."

I took a deep breath, ran in, then ran right back out.

"There's someone in there."

"Using the john?"

"No, on the floor."

"Is he masturbating?"

"No, just lying there, like he's asleep."

"Just step over him. Don't forget to hold your breath."

And this time, we were in the Chrysler Building, with a friend of a friend of my father's, heading who knows where, and suddenly, we were let into the Cloud Club, a glorious relic that had been shut down for some years and essentially turned into a dusty, junk-filled Art Deco mausoleum. It was…well, to a kid of my age, it was the most amazing place in the universe, all the more so because no one could get in and see it all. In my supervillain dreams, it would have been the perfect spot for a life spent threatening the world powers with a laser, but these things tend to drift off when you reach the age where you've got to pay car insurance and get your teeth fixed.

Someone wrote that anyone who read the article and claimed not to be jealous is a liar, but I can say with a hundred percent accuracy that I'm not remotely jealous. Not even a bit. See—the thing here is that, to live in that space, and life that kind of lifestyle, I'd have to be that kind of person, and I'm not that kind of person. I don't even aspire to be that kind of person, in large part because people who live like that don't really do things, at least beyond living wild pretentious party lifestyles filled with people that are meant to be important because a lot of people know their name. Maybe they're happy that way. I have no idea and probably won't.

The thing about that space is this—it can't be heated without expending the carbon footprint of Mexico City. It can't be cooled without a whole power plant's worth of power. Nothing in there will ever look right, because all you can see is the space and the structure there, with everything like dollhouse furniture scattered in the emptiness. No matter how big your money, or how hip your friends are, or how amazing a parent you think yourself, you'll always be an ant, skittering around in that space.

To each their own, I suppose.

I've been in a lot of beautiful buildings. I've even built and installed immense works of art on beautiful buildings housing beautiful collections of things made by the brilliant and the insane, but the older I get, the more I think that these overwhelming spaces need to be in the public realm, like they were before we entered the new gilded age of wealthy entitlement. Once in a while, you get a lovely anomaly, like the Frank Lloyd Wright vacation cottage you can actually rent for a reasonable sum of money.

So I don't think I'm jealous, really—just a little sad that everything wonderful gets parceled out to the reserve of the rich. Maybe that woman will do wonderful things there. It's not my place to judge her, I'll admit.

Of course, I occupy, at least during my working hours, a space almost as amazing as this one, so in the interest of full disclosure, I'll cop to the fact that I left a job at the most amazing museum in the country after seeing that I'd have the only key in the city to all the secret places in the only giant clock tower advertising tranquilizer-laden antacid granules in the world. It's a far more mundane job than you'd expect, despite the building, but that's okay, and it gives me time to tell myself stories while I'm dealing with the day-to-day aspects of facility management.

There's a room, right near the top, that I call the Tippi Hedren Room. It's full of birds because, years ago, someone left the door open at the top of the spindly iron spiral stair that takes you into seemingly empty space there, and none of us in the job have ever had the heart to close the door and starve the birds left in there. The first time I got up the nerve to climb the stair, then climb the steep steel ladder to the hatch at the very top of the tower, I opened the hatch and dozens of goldfinches flew out around me in a rush of saffron.

The peregrines love it there, too, and on those days when I escape my desk by heading to the roof to look out over the compact gridwork of Baltimore, there will always be that one falcon that'll idle up to the tower, a intercontinental ballistic missile of muscle and feathers and focus like a laser, just hanging there, effortless in the neverending wind, watching me.

"You're ambitious," I'll say, as if he'd understand or care, but the look gets me, a little, in my core, as if he's calculating the odds, noting my movement, and planning to catch me off guard and tip me over the battlements. We stare at each other across the space, until something catches his eye and he goes rocketing down into the open plaza by the Mechanic Theater, a flash of energy dwindling into the distance.

I sit and enjoy my lunch break, watching the traffic and the helicopters and the harbor, then climb down a steep ladder, ducking birds, then down a spindly spiral stair in the middle of the cupola, then down a steep ship's ladder into an abandoned radio station, then down a steep ship's ladder into a huge empty room full of logs, then down a steep ship's ladder into the clock room, where the relays of the elevator control unit clatter like castanets, then down another ladder, a couple flights of stairs, to a hundred year-old elevator that you run with a big lever like a ship.

"Are any of these spaces residential?" visitors ask, touring the studios during our once-monthly open days.

"No, but you wouldn't want to live here."

I could explain that magic of the place is accentuated by its inaccessibility, but no one seems to buy that these days, so I just leave it simple.

"Why?"

"Place is haunted."

"Really?"

"You should see the things I've seen."

"Oh my."

I'm a fickle gatekeeper, but when I see that particular spark in someone's eyes, I'll bend the rules, sneak people through the cracks of liability and common sense, and let them have that moment there, standing in a room walled into giant glass and iron clock faces, and tell them the story of exactly how a low-fi copy of the Palazzo Vecchio's clock tower happened to wind up shilling for fizzy tranquilizers in a bustling American port city a hundred years ago.

Maybe our clock room will end up as a precious preserve for some wealthy wannabe eccentric one day, but I sure hope I'm long dead by the time that happens, so I'll be too tired to sift around irritably in my urn.
posted by sonascope at 3:37 PM on October 25, 2010 [21 favorites]


I thought the Chrysler Building was where the Quetzalcoatlus used to nest?
posted by Artw at 3:51 PM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


In middlebrow Hollywood dramas, the struggling artist would live in a place like this.

(preferably subject to the predations of a winged serpent).
posted by ovvl at 5:08 PM on October 25, 2010


Actually, when I was a tourist in New York many years ago, I took the elevator up to the top of the Chrysler Building. It was being renovated into a fancy architect's office. The client was there, and he was happy to let me gaze out of those little triangle windows. It was swell.
posted by ovvl at 5:16 PM on October 25, 2010


. . . I think anyone who reads the article and doesn't find the residents loathsome didn't read the article.

Not loathsome, exactly. Overpriviliged, name-dropping, smurfy and irritating, sure, but not loathsome. She had vision, anyway.

In any case, I was struck by a sadness for the little girl. Of course she's got it great -- she's got it as good as possible. But check out the picture on page 10 of the slideshow. She will never be that happy again. Money, privilege, connections -- nothing will buy the beauty and peace she knew in her youth, at the top of her tower.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:17 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Life in the tower would not be for the disorganized. By the end of my first day there, I would have been up and down so many times to get my wallet, car keys, etc. -- "Shit! I left it on the counter!" -- that I would have developed motion sickness from all of the elevator rides.

I'm generally awestruck by the space, though I do see the basis for Countess Elena's description of Ms. Franklin as

Overpriviliged, name-dropping, smurfy and irritating, sure

and pascal's irritation at the tenant's having managed

to "mine the rest of the building" for valueless stuff like... fucking great slabs of marble and 300 year old chinese chairs.
posted by virago at 6:33 PM on October 25, 2010


I went to a New Years Eve party some time before the renovation up in Smith Tower. The level below has a great walk around deck, but it was pretty ragged condition and I was mostly hovering around the bar.
posted by sammyo at 7:37 PM on October 25, 2010


nothing will buy the beauty and peace she knew in her youth, at the top of her tower.

Also it's In Pioneer Square, so it's an ivory tower, surrounded by bums.
posted by Artw at 8:14 PM on October 25, 2010


Funny that Sonascope should mention the Cloud Club. Today, that space (or the floor above it, I forget which...) looks a lot like this apartment.

Also, I'm not going to jump on the hate-train for these people just yet. However, I do suppose it was a bit douche-y to name their daugher Rapunzel.....
posted by schmod at 9:37 PM on October 25, 2010


Nothing in there will ever look right, because all you can see is the space and the structure there, with everything like dollhouse furniture scattered in the emptiness. No matter how big your money, or how hip your friends are, or how amazing a parent you think yourself, you'll always be an ant, skittering around in that space.

I think this is a matter of awkward interior decorating, despite her resources. The furnishings don't seem of the space, they seem to be fighting it. A really good architect could have solved some of the scale issues, I think. (If it is recycled onto the market, I suspect that might happen, in fact. But if she really does have money, as some think, she'll probably come up with a way to keep it. Another ten-year lease or something.)

It is kind of crazy that it doesn't have any outside, but maybe she has deck privileges downstairs or something that weren't covered in the article. Those are pretty much standard for urban condo living nowadays.

Part of the reaction to this seems to be a societal expectation that the space should conform to your needs at all times, versus you adapting to a space. I think this is a real-estate-bubble type of fantasy that has led to a lot of McMansions and exurban sprawl. If you go back a few generations, though, you have movies that seem to celebrate the garret and the unique space, from Roman Holiday or Irma La Douce to Swiss Family Robinson. Or, heck, The Apartment. Indeed, there is a tinge of envy that somehow it's wrong for someone to get such a sweet deal and there must be chicanery involved or a moral necessity that she be turned out.

I dunno. Maybe she is loathsome at some level (the New York Style section way, which mostly involves obliviousness rather than actual exploitation). But I've known a few people who've lived in things like historic churches they're restoring, one floorboard at a time. It takes a certain tolerance. It's the total opposite of the people who build a teardown where once stood a perfectly functional house of a certain vintage, and insist on building out to the exact millimeter allowed by code, putting in their outdoor living room, and so forth, all somehow amortized to future value of the house. Those instant-and-total-gratification types are truly, to me, more repellent.
posted by dhartung at 11:05 PM on October 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


In Atlanta, there is a guy who had a lifetime lease to live above the Fox Theater, but is getting kicked out by the current board, most of whom probably weren't even born when he saved the place from the wrecking ball in 1979....

just a little sad that everything wonderful gets parceled out to the reserve of the rich.

The key is to move to a place no one wants to live in, like downtown st louis. You can find amazing places at amazing prices. In St Louis, I rented a floor in a building that started life as a fur storage warehouse, in 1916. It had these huge steel doors that required counter-weights to move. One of the other unofficial residents built a swing next to his windows. He had a wheeled ladder to get you up to the swing, about 12 feet off the ground, at which point, your view to the right and ahead was basically out the windows and 80 feet down. I paid $600/month, including utilities.

I love seeing what people do with industrial spaces to turn them into living spaces.
posted by nomisxid at 9:28 AM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's an amazing space. Looking at it made my stomach kind of clench, which makes me wonder if I could live up in the clouds like that. I'd dearly love to have that kind of open, airy space. Despite seeing what the haves did to screw us with the banking disaster, there's still plenty of "Look how rich people live! They get to have nice places, and you don't" esp. in the NY Times. So I despise them a little. Still, I have a nicer home than many people on the planet, with clean water, good sanitation, clean air, and I'm plain old middle-class American. Run those pictures next to pictures of a Haitian tarp slum.
posted by theora55 at 5:58 PM on October 26, 2010


I spent a lot of time in Seattle as a kid, and what I'll always remember about the Smith Tower is the salmon windsock that flew on its flagpole for years. I guess it's gone now. Bummer.
posted by makabampow at 10:52 AM on October 31, 2010


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