Home AEC Hotel Designed for 1962 Century 21 World’s Fair Gets Revamp While Paying...

Hotel Designed for 1962 Century 21 World’s Fair Gets Revamp While Paying Homage to Mid-Century Design

Civic Hotel, Wittman Estes, Imperial 400 Motel, Seattle, Century 21 World’s Fair
Courtesy of Nic Lehoux

By Meghan Hall

A long-standing hotel that was originally constructed nearly 60 years ago for the 1962 Century 21 World’s Fair is getting a new lease on life. The Civic Hotel, which is located between the Space Needle and growing South Lake Union neighborhood, has been completely renovated to modern standards while remembering its mid-century modern roots. The 52-key boutique hotel is making its debut just as the United States begins to reopen following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it hopes to invite new travelers to be a part of its next era.

“The clients wanted a boutique hotel that was fresh and contemporary, and also drew from the original spirit of the mid-century modern architecture of the 1962 hotel,”explained Matt Wittman, of architecture and landscape firm Wittman Estes. “[We were] deeply interested in the history of mid-century modern housing and landscapes, and how that era embodied optimism and an embrace of future and technology.”

Originally called the Imperial “400” Motel, the building totals 27,433 square feet. The ground level consists of a lobby and event space, while the second and third floors each have 26 guest rooms. Over the years, previous renovations had failed to bring the building effectively into the modern era, leaving the lobby and public spaces dark and disconnected, according to Wittman Estes. Thus, the goal of the renovation was to open up the hotel, creating a vibrant indoor-outdoor experience for guests that would match Seattle’s energy and bustling pedestrian activity.

“The building had successive generations of unsympathetic remodels and accretions onto the bold midcentury bones,” said Wittman. “Our challenge was to peel back the layers and bring in light and transparency and re-connect the architecture with the energy of the city…We looked to the future and saw a people-centric street life and connection to the neighborhood, and had to overcome the noise and messiness of a large scale urban infrastructure shift.”

The renovated lobby features a glass staircase accented by Douglas Fir treads that lead guests to their rooms. A new, 1,000 square foot meeting room is located on the ground floor, and the space can be broken into smaller rooms using partitions and sliding panels. A coffee shop is expected to open on the northeast corner of the lobby. The shop will open out onto a new wood deck featuring built-in seating.

The renovation team also sought to make the exterior of the building more “iconic.” The design is anchored by a large neon sign visible from State Route 99 and the surrounding neighborhood. Another 1,200 square foot hardwood deck and event space opens the hotel up to the outdoors and offers views to other Seattle neighborhoods. The entire first floor features La Cantina folding doors to offer that indoor-outdoor experience the project team so desired. Additionally, a rooftop sky lounge is in the works, and will be completed at a later date.

Guest rooms are largely neutral and modern, but accented with bright yellow doors. Custom plywood furniture was also designed to bring warmth to each room. Custom pieces include the bed headboard, night stands, desk, credenza and cabinets. 

“The key to hotel rooms is to balance art and commerce,” said Wittman. “We wanted to select materials that will last for a long time yet still bring a sense of luxury with them.”

Looking ahead, the design team hopes that the renovation’s themes of lightness, connectivity and stylishness will usher in new guests and allow the hotel to remain a focal point in the neighborhood for decades more to come.

“Post-COVID, the hotel is poised to be a civic focal point in the South Lake Union neighborhood,” said Wittman.  “As the people again are comfortable gathering, public life and transparency and connection can re-emerge more vividly than ever.  The Civic hotel will be ready for it’s latest reinvention.”