Designed to function as a modern office building full of distinction and character, the Northern Life Tower became the home of the Northern Life Insurance Company on March 18, 1929, after roughly a year of construction costing nearly $2 million. Founded in Seattle in 1905, the family-operated Northern Life Insurance Company remained in business until 1977 when it was sold. Like many businesses in the modern era, it has since been absorbed into several other corporations through mergers and buyouts.
Although fewer stories than nearby Smith Tower, The Northern Life Tower was built at a higher elevation, making it Seattle's highest human-made point. The building is considered Seattle's quintessential Art Deco skyscraper, inspired by the mountains that surround Seattle. The multi-colored brick becomes gradually lighter with height, while light terra-cotta resembling snow-capped rocky peaks adorn the finished piers. Additionally, metal rods resembling evergreen trees crown the building. When the tower was opened, more than 300 floodlights shined upward against the building, reminiscent of an Aurora Borealis (but they were dismantled during World War II, in 1942).
The insurance company only occupied a few of the building's floors, the rest filled by numerous investment groups, banks, and other business the symbolized the nation's and Seattle's economic boom of the Roaring '20s. Moreover, the building possessed a grand lobby faced in dark marble and illuminated with electric lights, as well as brass and gold leaf decorations. Onlookers could also gaze at the huge brass base-relief map of the Pacific Ocean outlining the Pacific trade routes that helped Seattle become the metropolis it was in 1929. Indeed, the map included the motto Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way.
Many tenants called the tower home, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several radio broadcasting companies and businesses. In 1967, the building was sold to Tower Associates and began to be known as the Seattle Tower.
Still operating as an office building today, it stands as a monument to an era steeped in economic and technological optimism.