IN THE SEATTLE Times classifieds of Feb. 7, 1958, the state highway department sought “men wanted . . . to do design work in connection with the Seattle Freeway . . . First project is the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge.” Later that summer, local contractors Scheumann and Johnson’s low bid was awarded the contract to build the seven piers required to support the steel truss portion of the bridge, and the first concrete was poured on Sept. 24.
At least parts of six of the seven piers can be found in this construction photo by Victor Lygdman, admiringly described in his Times obituary dated March 23, 2010, as the “unofficial mayor of Wallingford.” Born in 1927, Lygdman became an artist in several media, including watercolors, cartoons, fiction and sculpture. (When my left knee complains, I carry a Lygdman cane, skillfully carved as a snake spiraling the shaft to the handle.)
Jean Sherrard and I figure that Lygdman recorded the historical view from where the bridge meets the hill near 42nd Street and Pasadena Avenue. Pasadena was a busy commercial street in the Latona neighborhood until 1919, when the Latona Bridge was replaced by the University Bridge to the east. The Ship Canal Bridge, with its 2,294 feet of steel trusses supporting the stretch of Interstate 5 across the canal, conforms to what was the north-south line of the Latona Bridge, about 100 feet above it.
The I-5 bridge opened to traffic in December 1962, with only 2.2 miles of approaches. On Dec. 18, Times reporter Marshall Wilson reported on his test drive. “For the time being, commuters in both directions may find that it’s quicker traveling their old and accustomed routes.” Wilson added, “The view is better on the freeway route. From high atop the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge, the old Aurora Bridge looks almost like a miniature. Even the Space Needle appears to be at eye level.”
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After the bridge was painted “Washington Green” with brushes, it sat idle for more than a year waiting for the freeway to catch up. Plans to use it for Century 21 World’s Fair parking were first approved and then dropped. As historian Genevieve McCoy remarks in her book “Building Washington,” published in 2000, “Today, frustrated motorists crawling across the span could surely advise future fair planners that you don’t need a world’s fair to turn a bridge into a parking lot.”
Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.