Seattle Now & Then: The Fremont Bridge [archival]

[A version of this feature first appeared in Pacific Northwest Magazine for August 13, 2006.  I suggested two titles: “First Day Open” and/or  “Be Prepared to Wait” for this story on the original opening of the Fremont Bascule Bridge.  The latter title referred to the upcoming - in 2006 - scheduled repairs on the bridge .  The article ends with a web-link to a Seattle.Gov site dedicated to the repair.  We have left it in as an artifact from that summer.  When it appeared in The Times, the title chosen was “Drawing A Crowd,” which used a clever pun on “draw bridge” and a reference to some of the crowded events connected with the first year of the bridge – like its dedication - and the thousands of times it has opened to yaughts while sometimes hundreds of cars wait, and finally to the frequent delays that were part of the many months of bridge repairs.  This time the mysterious Times’ Title Writer’s creation was better than either of mine.]

(as always, click to enlarge)

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THEN: The Fremont Draw Bridge – or bascule bridge – opened 92 years ago, and this “then” scene is from its first day, June 15, 1917. (Historic photo courtesy Municipal Archive)
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NOW: The cozy traffic in the “now” is exceptional. Although with about 35 openings each day the Fremont Bridge is one of the busiest bascules in the world it was also under repair when the “now” was taken in 2006 - the lanes reduced from four to two. Both views look north toward Fremont.

Judging from the lean shadows it was about lunchtime when a photographer from the city’s department of streets recorded this look north towards Fremont and thru the new Fremont Bridge.  It may be the by now venerable draw bridge’s first portrait – formal or informal – for the beautiful bascule opened that day, June 15, 1917, at a little after midnight.

At first it was only the “Owl Cars” or last street cars of the night that were permitted to cross the span, and City Engineer A.H.  Dimock stayed up to catch the excitement in the wee morning hours of June 15.  But later at five in the morning of its first day, a little after sunrise, the bridge was opened also to pedestrians and vehicles of all sorts.  No doubt the drivers and riders of all those shown here  – including the Seattle-Everett Interurban car – understood the significance of this day’s passage.  Mayor Hi Gill also showed up in the afternoon for a little ceremony.

The truth is that the bridge inaugural – like practically anything else that did not have something to do with the First World War – got less attention than it would have had there been no war fever.   Woodrow Wilson – formerly the president who “kept us out of war” – spent much of the first half of 1917 promoting entering it.  At last on May 6th Wilson declared war against the “Huns” and suddenly Americans of German decent were either suspicious or downright suspect.  In the days to either side of the bridge’s opening the Red Cross drive to raise 300 thousand dollars in Seattle was given several front pages in the local dailies while the Fremont Bridge got only a few inches of copy.  [We follow this story with a Post-Intelligencer clip that features side-by-side both the illustrated Red Cross drive and the bridge opening – barren of our picture or any other.]

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At a construction price of about $400,000 the bridge cost only a hundred thousand more than the Red Cross kitty, which was promoted as needed for “ministering” to the potential frontline needs of Seattle recruits.

(If I have followed the inflation charts correctly the bridge’s cost would be about $5 million today.  Curiously that is only about one-eighth of the projected $41.9 million that it will be expended to complete the current bridge repair.  Go ye and figure.)

Readers interested in the bridge repair may learn more about it and the Fremont Bridge on-line here.

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