IN 2019, Seattle underwent a public face-lift as startling and momentous as any in recent memory. With the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the waterfront, after 66 years, is no longer unhitched from the city’s downtown. After a long (and noisy) separation, there are high hopes for the new marriage.
Four of our columns this year commemorated this extended event. At the end of this creative destruction, we revisit one of them.
In our Feb. 24 installment, we looked north on Railroad Avenue (now Alaskan Way), wide and busy in 1920. Our “Now,” taken one week after the viaduct closed permanently, was dominated by the gray, elevated structure.
The new “Now” seen here, taken in late November, has the same vantage. Looking north up Alaskan Way from Washington Street, my camera atop a 21-foot extension pole, I drew the admiration of an onlooker leaning from a second-story window in the Washington Park Building (far right, built in 1890, mere months after the Seattle Fire).
I asked him what he felt was the most dramatic effect of removing the viaduct.
“Silence and sunlight,” he crisply replied. “This conversation wouldn’t be possible because of the roar of traffic. And no more concrete shade.”
Farther north, we see the three-story, pie-shaped building at 1 Yesler Way (originally the 1911 Bedford Hotel) emerging in golden sunlight from nearly seven decades in the shadows.
The entire waterfront is celebrating the same destiny, says Greg Nickels, Seattle’s mayor from 2002 to 2010, who offers sage advice: “For 66 years, the viaduct served as a placeholder, giving us a unique chance to re-imagine our city’s waterfront. Let’s not waste it.”
Part of that advice applies to chunks of the viaduct itself.
In our March 17 installment, we showcased a 1953 interior view of the Battery Street Tunnel, which served as the northern entry to the viaduct. Our “Now” for that story was taken Feb. 2, when we joined tens of thousands of pedestrians walking through the tunnel while visiting the viaduct for the last time.
Today, the tunnel, brimful with viaduct debris, offers a final view before being sealed forever. Bits of the rubble were offered to the public gratis in late November, allowing viaduct supporters one last concrete chance to preserve their nostalgia.
“Nothing about this job was easy,” concludes Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar. “The viaduct stood perilously close to buildings and utilities and a critical rail corridor. We appreciate our contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure West, which finished the job with no injuries and no significant damage. And we’re proud to have cleared the way for Seattle’s new waterfront.”
NOW: The three-story former Bedford Hotel shines in afternoon sun that never made its way to the building in viaduct days. (Jean Sherrard)
NOW: Battery Street Tunnel Superintendent Jimmy Vukelich stands upon gravel-topped fill, just a few feet shy of the tunnel’s ceiling. (Jean Sherrard)