SEATTLE - The 1962 Seattle World's fair ran from April 21 to October 21 of that year. But construction of the Space Needle started a year earlier, on April 17, 1961.
The 50th anniversary of the 1961 groundbreaking was celebrated at a Sunday ceremony at the base of the Seattle Center landmark. Participants included Bagley Wright, the sole living original investor in the privately owned structure.
"I can't believe it's here, any more than I can believe I'm here," he said.
Once the fair was over in the fall of '62, Wright wasn't sure if the needle was going to come back down as so many world's fair buildings do.
"I thought it was going to be a big hit during the fair, but after the fair I had no idea. And I still didn't know what a monument it was when I sold my interest in the middle '70s," he said.
On Sunday, Wright and others signed an enlarged napkin drawing of the Needle. That recalls how the idea for the needle was sketched on a napkin by businessman Eddie Carlson. He wanted something futuristic for the Seattle World's Fair.
The 605-foot tall Space Needle opened to fair visitors in April 1962 and has been a symbol of Seattle ever since.
"I think every single tourist who comes here for the first time, this is the first thing they want to see," said Carl Zapora, who always brings friends and relations from out of town down to the Space Needle for the dinner and the view.
These days, 85 to 90 percent of the visitors who come to the Space Needle every year are from outside of Western Washington.