Before the bridge was built, Ballard had campaigned for a canal — not to reach Lake Washington but for dredging to deepen Salmon Bay in order to move more lumber off its waterfront.

Share story

WE CAN BE pretty confident about why James Lee photographed this look south across Ballard’s Salmon Bay to the Queen Anne Hill horizon. Lee has dated his negative — and presumably his visit here — June 23, 1915. That was one month before the city’s public works department opened bids for the construction of two bascule bridges, of the department’s design: one in Fremont and the other here in Ballard.

Lee’s photography for the city eventually produced one of the greater collections of Seattle subjects. And, like this view, nearly all had some public works purpose, and were in focus, too. His work can be studied through the Seattle Municipal Archives.

This is the photographer’s record of the path that the Ballard Bridge would follow by continuing 15th Avenue Northwest from Interbay to Ballard proper. It would replace the 14th Avenue Bridge, the clutter of contiguous spans on the left, whose first trestle was pile-driven into shallow Salmon Bay in 1891. It was built for the West Street Electric trolley line, the first streetcar railway from the Seattle waterfront to reach Ballard, which was then promoting itself as “The Shingle Capital of the World.” The industrious community’s first lumber mill was built on Salmon Bay in 1888, and by 1890 there were at least seven more.

I think it likely that Lee shot this from the Phoenix Shingle Co. mill. In the 1912 Baist real estate map, the Phoenix footprint is shown just east of a short wharf that extends 15th Avenue about 200 feet into Salmon Bay. The map reveals that Lee’s chosen overview is a few yards east of 15th Avenue. For his “now,” Jean Sherrard is above the east-side railing of the Ballard Bridge. Although separated by a century, I think James and Jean are close.

The bridges at Ballard and Fremont (and soon the University District) were built for the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Ballard had long campaigned for a canal — not to reach Lake Washington, but for dredging to deepen Salmon Bay in order to move more lumber off its waterfront. In the spring of 1915, City Engineer A.H. Dimock calculated that once the bids were in and the contractors chosen, it would take about a year to build the new bridges. In Ballard, work started Sept. 1, 1915. However, a Seattle Times headline, “Ballard Viaduct Thrown Open to Traffic,” did not appear until Dec. 1, 1917.