Topping Out: The Ceremonial Finish to the Final Phase of Construction

Topping Out: The Ceremonial Finish to the Final Phase of Construction

What is Topping Out? And Why Does it Involve a Christmas Tree?

As you stroll down the streets of downtown Seattle, you look up to see an evergreen tree and American flag displayed at the top of a building that appears to be under construction. Rather than a seasonal observation, it’s likely what you’re seeing is evidence of “topping out,” a tradition known well in the construction industry.

The ritual of topping out celebrates the completion of a building’s framing and recognizes the construction crew’s hard work. As the final beam is lifted, construction crew, property managers and members of the community gather at the base of the building to cheer on the crane as it places the final beam into a now-constructed building.

The Origins of Topping Out

The origins of the rite are unclear, though two possible narratives closely connect to Seattle’s own heritage. Evidence of evergreens placed on building frames was first noted in 8th-century Scandinavia in an attempt to appease tree-dwelling spirits disturbed by the construction.

Why an evergreen tree? The tree was an emblem of the timber industry, much like that of historic Seattle, which provided the materials for buildings constructed at the time. From Scandinavia, the ceremony migrated to England and continental Europe, eventually making its way to the Americas. Today, an evergreen tree is used to pay tribute to the labor, time and materials that contributed to the building’s completion.

While an American flag atop a building may appear as a tradition from the United States, this rite actually stems from the Netherlands. Builders would keep a regional or city flag at the highest point of a building; named pannenbier or “roof beer” the flag would fly until the property owner agreed to provide every worker a free beer.

Despite its humble origins, some companies launch grandiose topping out ceremonies, such as those for the Empire State Building or 4 World Trade Center.

Martin Selig Real Estate Celebrates Topping Outs in 2019

In 2019, Martin Selig Real Estate was proud to mark the topping out of two major projects: Third & Lenora, and the Federal Reserve Building. 

Third & Lenora

a construction crane places the final steal beam
Martin Selig Real Estate, Perkins and Will and Lease Crutcher Lewis celebrated the topping out of Third & Lenora in August 2019.

In August 2019, MSRE celebrated this major milestone at Third & Lenora with longtime partners and building architects Perkins and Will and construction contractors Lease Crutcher Lewis. The topping out of Third & Lenora marked the completion of a two-year construction project on the Belltown property.

Located near Seattle’s historic waterfront, Third & Lenora features residential and office space within a short walk of Seattle’s busiest and most popular attractions. Tenants can walk to the Pike Place Market in just five minutes, dine at famous restaurants and explore Seattle’s night life at live music venues and rooftop bars. In just a few years, the 26-block Seattle Waterfront Park will connect Belltown residents to the Puget Sound through dazzling views and luscious green space.

Theaters, cafes and shopping are plentiful near Third & Lenora. Did we mention it also provides easy access to rapid transit and I-5?

Designed by world-class architects Perkins and Will, the 500,000+ square-foot building boasts 38 stories, including five levels of underground parking. Progress on this property moved fast, thanks to tireless work from the amazing crew from Lease Crutcher Lewis. The building’s interior is expected to finish in the summer of 2020, and pre-leasing is available now, with 200,000 square feet of commercial office space available.

The Federal Reserve Building

construction crew celebrating the final phase of construction
The construction crew celebrates the topping out of the Federal Reserve Building in downtown Seattle.

Following the completion of Third & Lenora came the topping out of our downtown commercial real estate property, the Federal Reserve Building. MSRE again partnered with Perkins and Will and Lease Crutcher Lewis for the “renovation” of this historical building. We say renovation tentatively, as this property will have an entirely distinct look and feel once complete.

Custom built in 1950, The Federal Reserve Building is an art deco masterpiece in the heart of Seattle’s Financial District. Once fully transformed into a truly modern office building, the latest technology and pet-friendly spaces will integrate seamlessly into the building’s original 1920’s-style architecture. Updated landscaping, a vast rooftop deck and energy efficient lighting and HVAC systems accompany original bank vaults that give the property character, charm and first-class modernity.

MSRE saw incredible progress in 2019 due to the hard work of our team and partners. We are excited to watch the interior spaces come to life and welcome tenants to the properties in 2020. We have numerous new developments underway, such as 800 Alaskan and 3031 Western, so don’t be surprised if you see a few evergreen trees topping out the Seattle skyline in the near future.


Interested in pre-leasing one of our recently topped out properties? Contact us online or reach out to a leasing agent today.

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