These photos from our archive show how neighborhoods were obliterated by the Seattle Freeway construction.
The Seattle Freeway, now called Interstate 5, bulldozed through neighborhoods and sliced the city in half.
In all, 20.5 miles of the route, or about 4,500 parcels of land, were cleared for the construction, according to HistoryLink.
On Oct. 2, 1960, The Seattle Daily Times wrote about how Victor Steinbrueck was fighting to preserve four buildings that were in the path of the freeway construction.
- Hotel Kalmar on Sixth Avenue and James Street, which opened in 1881.
- A house built by Henry Lohse on James Street, which was described an “excellent period example of middle-class decorative home architecture.”
- A fire hall at Seventh Avenue and Columbia Street, built in the 1890s and the oldest municipal structure at the time of the article.
- The home of Margaret Yarno on Fairview Avenue North, built in 1887 but standing in the way of the Mercer Street offramp.
By Feb. 17, 1963, the Hotel Kalmar, the Lohse house and the fire hall had all been demolished, Seattle Times reporter Lucile McDonald wrote that day.
For the families who owned homes in the planned route, the state bought them out for market value. Some of those homes were sold at auction and moved to other parts of the city.
A Jan. 6, 1958, Seattle Times story profiled the Wolf family, who were in the path of the coming freeway. The family said they got a fair price, but they had to dig into their savings to buy a comparable house in Seattle.
“We feel the state was fair in its dealings with us, but the property-owner sure doesn’t get ahead on a sale like this. If he breaks even, he’s lucky,” said Ernest Wolf.
The estimated value of the homes came from a range that two appraisers determined. This range is what the state would use to negotiate a price to buy the land from the property owners. After the home was sold occupants were given 90 days to vacate the property, the January article said.
In a story the next day, part of a series on the state’s right-of-way purchases, Times reporter Gene Hills wrote that business owners near the south side of the Lake Washington Ship Canal were optimistic that business would boom in the area after the freeway got rid of heavy traffic. One store owner whose building was in the right-of-way said the closest land he could buy was one mile away from his current location.
The route of the freeway right through the middle of Seattle is still an issue today. State officials declared June 21, 1960, that Washington would not share the cost of putting a lid over the freeway, which a Seattle city engineer estimated would cost between $5.575 and $6.9 million.
In a 1963 letter to the editor, M.S. Dunn, president of the First Hill Improvement Club, said that First Hill asked for direct freeway access to the hill as soon as the route was chosen. The community was worried that the open-ditch concept for the freeway would isolate their community.
Concrete was first poured in 1960, reported Seattle Times staff reporter Eric Pryne in a 2003 article.
The first cars went through Seattle on Jan. 31, 1967, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony, where the director of the state Highway Department called it “the greatest transportation improvement in the history of our state.”
Pryne’s 2003 article said the pavement used from the original construction would need to be completely replaced through Shoreline.