The iconic jumbo jet that once marked a new era in international travel will arrive in 39 pieces atop two dozen flatbed trucks.
Over the course of several weeks, crews will fashion the puzzle back together, piece by piece, suspended in the air between two South Lake Union high-rises.
“Each time somebody walks by, they may see a new piece of the airplane in place,” said Michael Chaplin, local development manager for Vancouver-based Westbank.
Westbank’s new mixed-use project taking shape at Stewart Street and Denny Way will include the fuselage of a Boeing 747 hanging 14 feet above the ground — a nod to Seattle’s industrial past in the heart of its new tech capital.
“You have so many of these light-filled glazed atriums in the middle of commercial or office buildings. That is nice but doesn’t have a unique character. So, we really sought out designs that could create something more remarkable here,” said Michael Sypkens, an architect whose firm, OSO, first presented the concept for incorporating the 747.
“This is something that hopefully ties the past to the future,” Sypkens said.
More practically speaking, don’t hold your breath for a swank midcentury bar or cafe inside the jet. The fuselage will become office space for Westbank.
Westbank founder Ian Gillespie promises occasional public exhibits. “It’s not something I’m going to open to the public all the time. I want to make it something that’s special,” Gillespie said. “If people want to walk by the plane and take an Instagram photo, it’s there for them.”
The project’s lower levels are set to include a Live Nation music venue and Trader Joe’s, plus other shops and businesses. Above, two towers will house 1,048 apartments with curved balconies and lux amenities.
Big bets on luxury high-rises started to look risky last year when tech workers went looking for more space in the suburbs and in-city rents dropped. Now, rents have rebounded and the vacancy rate has dropped.
Commercial real estate brokers are bullish. “Once these office buildings are full … the apartments will see very high demand,” said Dylan Simon, an executive vice president at Kidder Mathews.
Uncertainty lingers about the future of office work for neighborhood giant Amazon, which will allow many of its white-collar employees to work remotely indefinitely. Meanwhile, several high-rise towers are underway in South Lake Union, some with rents as high as $2,500 for a studio.
At “WB1200,” the Boeing jet will recall another era of luxury.
The 747 debuted in the late 1960s with spacious cabins and a lounge.
With more seats on every jet, airlines could offer cheaper tickets and more people could fly. “It was literally twice as big as anything else in service,” said Ted Huetter, spokesperson for The Museum of Flight in Seattle, which houses the first 747 built. Boeing announced in July it would end production of the 747 next year.
Westbank found its plane at a boneyard in the southern California desert. The jet had flown United Airlines service from 1990 to 2017 with frequent stops in San Francisco, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Gillespie said the plane and installation process are expected to cost between $10 million and $20 million.
When the pieces of the fuselage arrive in Seattle, crews will reconstruct them around a catwalk-like structure between the two towers. That will become the floor of the office space. Inside, the cockpit will resemble its original form but other interiors will be replaced.
Outside, the public can walk beneath and around the fuselage. Remnants of jet engines will be incorporated throughout the development.
The project is set to open next fall, but Westbank is considering some type of preview in the spring for aviation fans, Gillespie said, to “let them get up close and personal” with the new landmark.