Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The View From The Top Never Gets Old For This Space Needle Elevator Operator

Allie Ferguson
Sound Effect host Jennifer Wing with Space Needle elevator operator B.J. Listman on the Space Needle observation deck.

This story originally aired on May 27, 2017.

B.J. Listman is one of the elevator operators at the Space Needle. The Space Needle and the Smith Tower, according to B.J, are the only places left in Seattle where there are actually elevator operators. This iconic Seattle landmark has enchanted B.J. since he was a child.

“It's kind of funny actually. I have one of those three-foot tall paper Space Needle models, and the model kit had you glued the elevators in place, but I never did because I like to make them go up and down the Space Needle," he said.  "So now the fact that I do that on the real space is kind of ironic in sort of a way, but I love it.”

B.J. has been doing this job for years, but for him, the 41-second ride to the top never gets old.

“Right now, I've got a great view of the Puget Sound. The mountains are out very nicely today. A lot of work of whales come into the bay, which is really cool to see. It's a gorgeous day. There's a really good day where we actually got Mt. Rainier out today as well,” he said.

On the observation deck, B.J. talks about the first time he came up here.

“It was my mom's 30th birthday in 1994. And we went to the restaurant and I didn't know it rotated at the time, and it was at night," he remembered.  "And so I was sitting there eating my little chicken tenders, you know, and I looked out the window and saw downtown, and some time went by and I looked down I saw nothing but darkness and water and I thought the city had disappeared and sunk in the water and I was freaking out.”

B.J. points to a spot on the ground on Lower Queen Anne just to the left of the parking garage.

“There's the parking lot there, and right across is my apartment. And I have an astronomy laser pointer and I used to collaborate with a friend of mine who had worked on the elevator. And we would do is what we call Operation Tinkerbell, where I would be ready on my balcony with the laser pointer and then he would be on the north facing elevator and say [to the customers on the elevator], ‘OK guys, we're going to start moving up and if we clap our hands and wish really hard we'll see Tinkerbell fly by.’ And then I'll hit [the elevator] with my green laser pointer and they’d see green flashes going around it freaked them out at bit. So we would time that perfectly for him from my apartment and the Space Needle,” he said.

B.J. has seen the skyline change over the years, but maintains the appreciation for his job and the view he gets to see every day.

“It's like a different world is happening at this level.  It's a world up here and then there's a world down there. We get to kind of look over it and see what's what. You know,a it's a good way to escape the hustle and bustle of the ground.”

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.
Kevin Kniestedt is a journalist, host and producer who began his career at KNKX in 2003. Over his 17 years with the station, he worked as a full time jazz host, a news host and produced the weekly show Sound Effect. Kevin has conducted or produced hundreds of interviews, has won local and national awards for newscasts and commentary.