Many Seattle residents have heard that the Space Needle started as a napkin doodle by Seattle World’s Fair organizer Edward E. Carlson. But a new short film about Seattle’s most iconic structure spotlights a lesser-known story behind its famous shape.

B.J. Bullert’s Space Needle: A Hidden History, which will be screened at The Seattle Public Library on Tuesday, Oct. 22, tells the story of how architect Victor Steinbrueck – when casting about for a unique design for the Space Needle – was inspired by David Lemon’s graceful wooden sculpture of a dancer in motion called “The Feminine One.”

“This confirmed what I felt intuitively, that the Space Needle was a ‘she,’ ” Bullert said. “In the film, this story unfolds like a mystery exploring the relationship between art, architecture and the creative imagination.”

There is a dual “hidden history” at the heart of the 18 minute film, which brings together interviews, archival footage, poetry, music and dance. While the connection between “The Feminine One” and the Space Needle is documented, the film makes a creative pivot. Through an original poem by Jourdan Imani Keith and a dance performed by Nia-Amina Minor, it invites viewers to reimagine the Space Needle as a Seattle-born, African American dancer named Syvilla Fort, who knew Lemon and Steinbrueck while at Cornish in the 1930s.

“My goal is to spark conversation about our rich cultural history, including the stories of women left out of traditional narratives,” Bullert said. “Syvilla Fort was a groundbreaking dancer, but faced huge discrimination in her lifetime.”

The film screening is one of several related programs hosted by the Library in October. “The Space Needle: A 21st Century View” is an exhibit that opened on Monday, Oct. 7, in the Level 8 gallery of Seattle’s Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave. Drawn from the Library’s Special Collections and personal collections of Library staff, the exhibit is a treasure trove of Space Needle artifacts, documents and memorabilia, including press clippings, menus from the Space Needle Restaurant, Space Needle replicas, teacups and salt shakers, vintage postcards and construction photographs and notes from the George Gulacsik Collection.

The exhibit includes a display case related to Bullert’s film, with images of Lemon’s sculpture and Steinbrueck’s journal, as well as poems featured in the film and photographs of Syvilla Fort.

Visitors can also write their memories on a Space Needle postcard and view World’s Fair video footage.

Bullert will also appear in a panel discussion on the Space Needle at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, at the Central Library, along with Knute Berger, Space Needle historian. See detailed information below.

 

EXHIBIT AND EVENT DETAILS

  • The Space Needle: A 21st Century View will be displayed in the Level 8 Gallery at the Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Oct. 7-27. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday - Thursday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday - Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m., Sunday.
  • Space Needle Redux: Knute Berger and B.J. Bullert Eye the Needle is an event from 7 p.m.- 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Microsoft Auditorium. Knute Berger, author of “Space Needle: The Spirit of Seattle,” and filmmaker B.J. Bullert will share insights and revelations about the Space Needle. The evening will include a screening of Bullert’s 2002 film Space Needle at 40.
  • Space Needle: A Hidden History, B.J. Bullert’s new short film, will be screened from 7 p.. - 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Microsoft Auditorium, followed by a panel discussion with B.J. Bullert, Peter Steinbrueck and architect Alan Maskin. Artists and crew from the film's production will also be present, including poet Jourdan Imani Keith, dancer/choreographer Nia-Amina Minor and cellist Gretchen Yanover. (See the trailer; a press link to the film is available.)

 

MORE INFORMATION

“Space Needle: A 21st Century View” was curated by librarians from The Seattle Public Library. Explore more books and websites related to the Space Needle on The Seattle Public Library website. This exhibit is made possible by the support and contributions of Al Doggett Studio, Antioch University, Crosscut, Knute Berger, B.J. Bullert, HistoryLink, private collectors, The Seattle Times, The Seattle Public Library and The Seattle Public Library Foundation.

Bullert has produced biographical portraits and documentaries, a number of which are focused on Seattle’s history. She is a member of the Core Faculty at Antioch University in Seattle, where she teaches courses about making media for social change. She is available for interviews. Find more information at seattlefilms.com.

Born in Seattle in 1917, Fort studied dance at Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts in the 1930s, collaborating with composer John Cage, among others. Later, she taught dance in New York City, where she taught the likes of Alvin Ailey, Eartha Kitt and James Dean. Find more information about her life at blackpast.org/vignette_aahw/fort-syvilla-1917-1975.

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