Columbia Center, tallest building in Pacific Northwest, opens doors on March 2, 1985.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 8/25/2000
  • Essay 2627

On March 2, 1985, the first tenants occupy the 76-story Columbia Center, the tallest building in the Pacific Northwest. Constructed at a cost of $200 million amid controversy over its architectural value and environmental impact, the project demonstrates inadequacies in the city building code. The Columbia tower, as it is known informally, is located between 4th and 5th avenues and Columbia and Cherry streets. The Columbia Center's name will change to Columbia Seafirst Center, and in 1999 will change again to Bank of America Tower, or BankAmerica Tower. Finally, in 2005, the name will revert to Columbia Center.

Selig Works the System

Developer Martin Selig (b. 1936) used "public amenities," such as retail space and public areas, as "bonuses" to expand building code limitations on the project. The building offered 1.5 million square feet of office space, triple the space in the next largest building in Seattle. Mayor Charles Royer (b. 1939) said, "You have in Martin Selig a developer who really knows how to get the maximum. He really used the system. We had an old complex system, almost like the tax code. A good lawyer could figure out how to work around it."

Planners criticized the public amenities. A plaza located on the shady side of the building faced a brick wall. Other public areas were walkways kept open 24 hours. Seattle City Light predicted that the peak energy demand of the building, which had 46 elevators, would be equal to the output of its proposed Tolt River Hydroelectric plant. The owners of the adjacent First Methodist Church predicted that the shade of the structure falling on the church would add an additional $1,000 to heating costs.

Rumors that the building was sinking and leaning proved untrue

For Steinbrueck, Greed

Preservationist and Dean of the University of Washington School of Architecture Victor Steinbrueck (1911-1985) said of the building, "It's terrible. A flat-out symbol of greed and egoism. It's probably the most obscene erection of ego edifice on the Pacific Coast."

The first tenant to occupy the building was the accounting firm of Clothier, Head and Rodely.

Selig, who once controlled one-third of the office space in Seattle, sold the tower in the late 1980s when the demand for office space slackened. It was again sold in 1998 for $404 million to Equity Office Properties Trust, a record sale in the Northwest for one building. The building was renamed The Bankamerica Tower or Bank of America Tower in 1999 and in 2005 was again renamed to just Columbia Tower.

The building has 76 above-ground floors. The height to the tip of the flag is 304.00 meters (997.36 feet); to the top of the roof the height is 290.78 meters (954.00 feet).


Timothy Egan, "76 Stories and Lots of Rumors: One Man's Dream Rises into the Sky," Seatttle Post-Intelligencer, May 14, 1984, pp. A-1, A-4; Timothy Egan, "How Selig Got the City to Let Him Build that Tower," Ibid., May 15, 1984, pp. A-1, A-9; Timothy Egan, "Some Love the Black Tower, Some Loathe It," Ibid., May 16, 1984, pp. A-1, A-5; Timothy Egan, "Selig, Portrait of a Mover and a Shaper," Ibid., May 17, 1984, pp. A-1, A-11; "First Tenants Move into High-rise," Ibid., March 4, 1985, C-9; Polly Lane, "Developer Martin Selig on the Rise Again with Tower Plan," Ibid., January 26, 2000; "BofA No Longer Name of Tallest Tower," Puget Sound Business Journal, November 21, 2005.
Note: This essay was updated on November 21, 2005 and the sources were corrected on February 13, 2006.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You