Seattle Now & Then: The Floating Bridge Inauguration

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: After twenty years of debate about whether to build it and where and how, the first bridge across Lake Washington took 18 months and a few days from ground breaking to accepting its first tolls from drivers happy for the short cut. (Photo courtesy Washington State Archive.)
NOW: For his repeat, Jean Sherrard got within a few feet of the original prospect (now hidden behind bushes) taken by a Port of Seattle photographer at the bridge’s dedication.

Three thousand men got depression-time jobs building the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge – aka the Lake Washington Floating Bridge.  Forty-five percent was paid with a federal public works grant and the rest by revenue bonds secured by the 25-cent tolls. The bridge was formally dedicated and opened in the early afternoon – judging by the shadows – of a sunlit July 2, 1940.

About 2000 people watched from the tunnel plaza area here on the bridge’s Seattle side and hundreds more gathered around the toll booths at the bridge’s Mercer Island end.  Broadcast by radio nation-wide, the floating bridge was christened like a ship. After cutting the red ribbon, Kate Stevens Bates, daughter of Washington Territory’s first governor, Isaac Stevens, let swing and crash against the concrete bridge a yellow urn in which were mixed the waters of fifty-eight of the state’s waterways: lakes, bays and rivers.

With a smile about as wide, turned up and fixed as the grill work of his inaugural chariot, an open 1940 Lincoln Convertible, the state’s Governor Clarence Martin rode twice across the new bridge.  At half way Martin was the first to pay a toll.

We could compare the public effort required to build “the largest floating structure in the world” with our recent struggle to replace the feeble Alaska Way Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel, except that it would take too long.  Instead, we suggest that readers consult Genevieve McCoy’s fine chapter on the state’s bridges that is part our book “Building Washington.”  You can read it for free on the blog noted here below.

One more toot – an announcement.  This “now-then” comparison is one of about 100 such selected for an exhibit of “repeat photography” opening Saturday, April 9th, at the Museum of History and Industry.  Most of the exhibit’s Seattle examples were first published here in Pacific.  But the exhibit – most likely the last one for MOHAI in its old Montlake quarters – also includes examples from Washington State and even from Paris, the birthplace of photography.


Anything to add, Paul?

Let me coyly answer my own question. I know Paul has some treats hidden away; including one of my favorites: a delightful photo of grinning then-governor Clarence Martin, as described above. For that and much more, click on ‘Web Extras’….

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