2008-12-28 Aurora Overpass

(Original article title: “Pedestrian overpass on Seattle’s busy Aurora Avenue saves lives”)

For me, discovering a forgotten pioneer photograph is an undiluted thrill, but more recent historical photographs, like the one printed here, can also be stirring. This recording from the Seattle Municipal Archive shows a dozen fourth- or fifth-graders from B.F. Day School celebrating the completion of the 41st Street Pedestrian Viaduct over Aurora Avenue North. One of them — fourth from the left — is also testing his yo-yo over the ledge.

After a few months of appeals from PTAs, school officials (both at B.F. Day in Fremont and Lincoln High School in Wallingford) and some neighbors, this Gothic-Modern span was completed in 1935 over Seattle’s then nearly new and dangerous speedway. The only recorded protest came from 35 Aurora homeowners who expressed their not-in-my-backyard objections that the viaduct might ruin their property. They preferred a tunnel. In fact, the rapid conversion of their home sites into motels and storefronts brought prosperity — and litter — to Aurora until Interstate 5 was completed in the mid-1960s.

The 41st Street Pedestrian Viaduct was a relief to frightened pedestrians of all ages. Note the two posts standing in the middle of Aurora. Designed as “concrete forts” where citizens could pause while crossing the speedway, they soon proved to be islands of destruction. Of the 37 deaths on Aurora in the five years after the 1932 dedication of the Aurora Bridge, 20 were pedestrians and 11 were motorists who crashed into these safety islands.

41st-aurora-pedes-overpass-10-22-36mr
THEN: With a dozen students looking down from above, a city photographer recorded this front lawn view of the brand new 41st Pedestrian Viaduct over Aurora Avenue on Oct. 22,1936.
41st-and-aurora
For his “now” repeat, Jean Sherrard was “pushed” onto the sidewalk by a storefront that filled the old Aurora home site. B.F.Day first grade teacher Debbie Bennett and Principal Susan McCloskey brought about twenty students for Jean’s “now.” The first graders learned that they are not so tall as fifth graders. The tops of their heads appear like sunning turtles on the ledge of the viaduct.

And a couple more:

Taken using my infamous ten-foot pole. Now you can see those kids!
Taken using Jean's infamous ten-foot pole. Now you can see those kids!
But here's the best view of the 1st graders from B.F. Day
But here's the best view of the 1st graders from B.F. Day

One thought on “2008-12-28 Aurora Overpass”

  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to share these bits of history.

    Knowledge is not simply another commodity. On the contrary. Knowledge is never used up. It increases by diffusion and grows by dispersion. Daniel J. Boorstin

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