Aurora Speedway, 1932

Here follows a “now and then” from Pacific Northwest Mag. for Dec. 18, 1988.  Until I find the negative for the “now” photo and/or until Jean returns to town to repeat the 1932 view, the scan from the Pacific clipping will have to do for a “now.”  “Speedway” was then ordinarily used as a general name for the oval tracks with bleachers attached that were used for racing mostly open cockpit motorcars.  We will conclude this selection with a piece of Aurora-appropriate ephemera sent by Ron Edge, our generous “Edge Clippings” provider.   The use of the term here on Aurora north from Denny Way was, then, more by analogy to those commercial racing urges and tracks.

(Click to Enlarge)


This stretch of new highway was what the Dog House and the Igloo correctly expected would bring them a steady line of customers.  Again, the now below is a crude clipping scan from the 1988 repeat I took for the Pacific printing.



Now we have got a up-to-date  NOW for the look north on Aurora thru its intersection with Mercer and Broad – before their grades were seperated.  David Jeffers send this today and notes, “My two cents are offered here for Paul’s benefit, with apologies to Jean for jumping in with an approximation of the “Now”.  Looks like I’m back and down a bit in my angle, but this is a terrifying spot on a weekday afternoon.”  This is most welcome and hopefully a sign of what’s to be too.  We hope to have more friends like David risking limb to get shots like this one and shots of all sorts.  Thanks much David.  It is most wonderful how the landscape siding “old dirty” Aurora has grown so since I snapped that “now” in 1988.   I am not yet familiar with Facebook but probably should be.  David says that this blog is linked to his facebook page.  Thanks again David. Here follows the 1988 “main story” on the historical view.

The historical view (top) north from Broad Street on Aurora Avenue was photographed in the first moments of the future strip’s transformation from a neighborhood byway into the city’s first speedway. One clue to the street’s widening is the double row of high poles. Old ones line the avenue’s original curb and new ones signal its new eastern border. Also look at the Sanitary Laundry Co. at the northeast corner of Aurora and Mercer Street (behind the Standard Station on the right). The business has cut away enough of its one-story brick plant to lop the “Sanit” from Sanitary on the laundry’s Mercer Street sign.

A photographer from the city’s Engineering Department recorded this view on the morning of June 10, 1932, nearly five months after the dedication of the Aurora Bridge. The widened Aurora speedway between the bridge and Broad Street was not opened until May 1933. Once opened, the speed limit on Aurora was set at a then-liberal 30 mph. Traffic lights were installed at both Mercer and Broad streets, and a visiting highway expert from Chicago declared the new Aurora “the best express highway in the U.S.” It also soon proved to be one of the most deadly.

By 1937, three years after safety islands were installed to help pedestrians scamper across the widened speedway, the city coroner counted 37deaths on Aurora since the bridge dedication in 1932. Twenty of these were pedestrians, and 11 more were motorists who crashed into these “concrete forts” or “islands of destruction.” For a decade, these well-intentioned but tragically clumsy devices dominated the news on Aurora. In 1944 the city removed those that motorists had not already destroyed.

On April 22, 1953, the city’s traffic engineer confirmed what commuters must have suspected, that this intersection was the busiest in the city. Traffic from the recently completed Alaskan Way Viaduct entered the intersection from both Aurora and Broad. (There was as yet no Battery Street tunnel.) Five years later this congestion was eliminated with the opening of the Broad and Mercer Street underpasses. The Standard gasoline station, on the right, was one of the many business eliminated in this public work.

Now pedestrians can safely pass under Aurora, although many still prefer living dangerously with an occasional scramble across the strip. Since 1973 they have had to also hurdle the “Jersey barrier” — the concrete divider (first developed in New Jersey) that has made the dangerous Aurora somewhat safer for motorists if not for pedestrians.


A more pleasant connotation – than safety island death and/or mutilation –  for the speed and convenience of Aurora is registered on the billboard for this mid 1950s Aurora Avenue service station that clung to the eastern slope of Queen Anne Hill and served northbound traffic only.  The image was photographed by Roger Dudley, a celebrated name in commercial photography hereabouts for many years.  It comes from the collection of my by now old friend Dreamland and Lamar Harrington’s (the band Lamar not the person) own Dan Eskenazi.  The clouds are so in line and spaced that they might be all plopped in theatre seats enjoying the presentation of the new Ford Edsel.  Note the Edsel’s briefly familiar grill on the right.  To aid inspection of the Edsel’s features we drop in her an Ivar’s advertisement from 1957.  It seems with the failure of Ivar’s hopes that an atomic submarine would take the place of the ferries on Puget Sound, he turned his affections to the then new Edsel.  It has been noted that the new Ford product was a disappointment for many because it was not as great a departure from regular Fords as was generally expected.  Still the Edsel did have a curious front end that some remarked resembled a submarine or could be easily imagined diving.


And as promised, this feature is for now concluded with a photograph from Ron Edge carrying its own hand-written caption,  “Aurora Speed Bowl, 1934.” [I confess to NOT finding the Aurora Bowl in any of my four city directories for the 1930s.  Ron?  This might make a good feature for Pacific.  Jean?


3 thoughts on “Aurora Speedway, 1932”

  1. I’d be too chicken to cross this road! A photo taken earlier today has been posted on my Facebook page. I got a kick seeing the streetcar tracks on Mercer. We really do things ass backwards, don’t we?

  2. thanks much David for taking the “now” shot. As you see we put it up. Hmmm. I though I answered this before. Perhaps I merely had kind thoughts about it all.

  3. I love that service station shot with the Edsel. I think the building behind the sign was still there until ’05 or so when a hillside-clinging condo was put in its place.

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