IN THE STIRRING 1989 blockbuster “Field of Dreams,” a 30-something farmer is driven to build a seemingly chimerical baseball venue in his cornfield.
A similar drive might have inspired Darwin Meisnest, the University of Washington’s youthful athletic manager (athletic director in today’s parlance) as he lobbied for a permanent crossing of the Montlake Cut, which divided the UW’s new stadium from points directly south.
The final — and easternmost — bascule (French for teeter-totter) intended to traverse the Lake Washington Ship Canal (1916) was, for Seattle voters, a bridge too far. They already had funded completion of the Ballard, Fremont and University bridges but repeatedly balked at $500,000 to span the Montlake Cut.
Meisnest (1896-1952, popularly known as “Dar”) already was instrumental in the 1920 erection of the UW’s majestic new outdoor bowl, today known as Husky Stadium. He opted to bend his shoulder to the Sisyphean task of bridge-building.
For the stadium’s inaugural football contest on Nov. 27, 1920, between Dartmouth and the UW, Meisnest installed a footbridge atop a row of barges that straddled the canal. Thousands of grateful south-side gridiron fans crossed over, packing just-christened Washington Field. (Dartmouth’s “Hanover horde” won, 28-7.)
Though teased by the temporary span, voters in 1921 continued to point thumbs down for the bascule.
An undaunted Meisnest then pulled out all stops, invoking school spirit. UW alums were encouraged to twist the arms of tightfisted friends and neighbors. Throughout the city were posted dozens of printed signs bearing the slogan, “You have your bridge, let us have one, too!”
A twist of fate — unforeseen, or was it? — turned the tide.
Less than a week before the 1924 election in which a Montlake bond issue appeared on the ballot for the sixth time, the University Bridge malfunctioned, stranding thousands of unhappy motorists in a 20-block-long traffic jam. Opined The Seattle Times, “Seattle should build the Montlake bridge now. Already it has been delayed too long.”
On May 8, voters finally and overwhelmingly agreed.
In little more than a year, the Montlake Bridge was completed, opening June 27, 1925. Its graceful Gothic design mirrored the architecture of the university, as well as the nearby stadium.
A hyperbolic Seattle Post-Intelligencer heralded its opening as an “epochal event” and a “milestone in the city’s forward march.” It singled out Meisnest (“not long out of his teens”) for his “mighty and untiring efforts,” even calling for a statue to be raised in his honor.
Not bad for the young booster who dreamed up a field and a bridge to reach it.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.