Seattle Now & Then: “Murder” on Aurora

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Like violence in a classic Greek play, the carnage suggested by this 1934 crash scene on the then new Aurora speedway was kept off stage, either behind the city’s official photographer, or in the county morgue.   (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive.)
THEN: Like violence in a classic Greek play, the carnage suggested by this 1934 crash scene on the then new Aurora speedway was kept off stage, either behind the city’s official photographer, or in the county morgue. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archive)
NOW:  In the mid-1970s the three- mile long “Jersey Barrier,” named for the state where it was first used, was installed down the center-line of Aurora Avenue, north of the Battery Street subway, to the southern boundary of Woodland Park.  Each of the barrier’s pre-cast 20-foot long segments weighed about three tons.
NOW: In the mid-1970s the three- mile long “Jersey Barrier,” named for the state where it was first used, was installed down the center-line of Aurora Avenue, north of the Battery Street subway, to the southern boundary of Woodland Park. Each of the barrier’s pre-cast 20-foot long segments weighed about three tons.

Few Seattle streets – perhaps no other Seattle street – have accumulated such a record of carnage as its first “speedway,” Aurora Avenue.  From Broad Street north to the then new Aurora Bridge, the speedway opened to traffic in the spring of 1933.

FK-Aurora-lk-n-thru-Broad-&-Mercer-ca1933-WEB

ABOVE: Looking north from the new speedway’s beginnings just north of Denny Way, and thru one of the city’s busiest  intersections where both Broad and Mercer Streets crossed Aurora through traffic lights, years before both streets were routed below Aurora and its only stop-and-go light south of the Aurora Bridge.   BELOW: The nearly new Aurora Bridge, the north end of the speedway’s first section, the one opened in 1933, although this record was made later – late enough for the speedway to be extended through Aurora Park.

Aurora-Bridge-lk-n-fm-Q.A.-early-WEB

A traffic expert from Chicago described this nearly two-mile long speedway as “the best express highway in the U.S.”  Its exceptional qualities were the six lanes – eight counting the two outside lanes for parking or rush hour traffic – and the speed limit of 30 mph. Still, Aurora had the arterial worries of cross-streets, left turns, and head-on traffic, plus the extraordinary risk of pedestrians negotiating the ninety feet from curb to curb.  For these endangered pedestrians traffic engineers built what they called “safety islands.”   You see one above (at the top), looking north from the Crockett Street crosswalk in 1934.  Just below is the same (if I’ve figured it correctly) island, only looking at it from the north and four years later on Sept. 21, 1938.

Looking south along the not-so-safe center-line of Aurora towards the Crockett Ave. safety island.  Below, is a detail from the same 1938 negative.
Looking south along the not-so-safe center-line of Aurora towards the Crockett Ave. safety island. Below, is a detail from the same 1938 negative.
A detail of the subject above it.
A detail of the subject above it.

No pedestrian was injured in the mess recorded at the top.  It was made around 2:30 in the morning on January 19, 1934.  Rather, it was 37-year-old Carl Scott who, heading south from the Aurora Bridge in his big Packard, crushed the north reinforced concrete pole of the safety island.  The Times, then an afternoon daily, explained front page: “Autoist Dies Instantly in Terrific Crash.”  Photographers from both The Times and the city’s department of public works reached the island after Scott’s body had been removed, but not the scattered parts of his sedan. In the accompanying photo at the top, the city’s photographer aimed north with his back to the intact south pole, possibly with its red light still blinking.    Interested readers will find The Times photos in this newspaper’s archive for the date of the crash.  (Ask your Seattle Public librarian – the archive can be accessed with a computer and a library card number.)

Some of The Seattle Time Jan. 19, 1934 coverage of
Some of The Seattle Time Jan. 19, 1934 coverage of Carl Scott’s crash and death.
The same section of speedway recorded in the primary photo at the top.
The same section of speedway recorded in the primary photo at the top.
A long Seattle Times clip from Dec. 8, 1937, which seeks and finds a variety of local opinions of what to make of the "safety islands."
A long Seattle Times clip from Dec. 8, 1937, which seeks and finds a variety of local opinions of what to make of and do about the “safety islands.”   CLICK TWICE TO ENLARGE

After a few more speedway accidents and deaths (see more clips below), The Times turned from seeking advice on how to improve and protect these imperfect pedestrian bulwarks to a campaign for getting rid of these targets for “the brotherhood of bad drivers . . . careless, reckless, defective, drunken and sleeping.”  Headlines for the December 2, 1937, issue read, in part “Stop Murder On Aurora – Center-Pillars Are Death Magnets.”  The following March, after another motorist lost his battle with a safety island, the newspaper’s librarian calculated that thirty-eight persons had died in Aurora Ave. traffic accidents since the highway was opened in 1932.  Eighteen of these were killed hitting “safety” islands.  By then, Times reporters were instructed always to put safety in quote marks when running with island, as in “safety” island.

Most of Times reporter
Most of Times reporter Robert A. Barr’s Feb. 14, 1973 summary of safety island history on the eve of the installation of the “Jersey Barrier” down the center of the by then forty year old speedway.   Directly below is a detail of a section of center-stripe that was meant to alert drivers with a grid of raised bumps.   This subject dates from July 25, 1945.
The installation of this bumpy center strip failed to stop the carnage.
The installation of this bumpy center strip failed to stop the carnage.
From The Times, May 30, 1949.
From The Times, May 30, 1949.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, lads?

Jean as sure as something has to give, we will too.  Below, Ron Edge has again put up some fertile links: eight of them, and we may add one or two  more tomorrow.   If you click to open the first of these, which features the Arabian Theatre, it will include (as we hope some of you will already anticipate) its own “web extras.”  We will name these added features as lures to clicking.  They are illustrated stories about the nearby intersection of Aurora and 84th Ave., a feature about the swath of clear-cutting that ran through Woodland Park in prelude to cutting the park in two with the paving of Aurora Avenue.  Next you will find the story of the Twin T-P’s restaurant, a local landmark which was razed in the night, unannounced.  Green Lake’s northwest swimming beach follows, and then also the story of Maust Transfer’s original flatiron quarters (before moving to Pier 54) at Winona and 73rd.

Continuing our promotion of links, the Signal Station story below, includes within it features about two once cherished speedway cafes: the Igloo, and the Dog House.   It includes as well features on the Aurora Speed Bowl and the pedestrian overpass between Fremont and Wallingford – although some Fremont partisans will insist that it is between two Fremonts: Central and East.   And as a lesson in our oft-quoted mother’s truism that “Repetition is the mother of all learning.” Ron has included down below the overpass link on its own.  It will surely have other links within it.   After the links we will finish with a few more Times clips and more speedway photos too.  A trip to nighty-bears follows, and eight hours more some proof-reading too.

aurora-broad-speed-web

41st-aurora-pedes-overpass-10-22-36mr

Not to click for more story - only to enlarge.  The subject here is below the viaduct and on its east or Wallingford* side.  * aka East Fremont.
Not to click for more story – only to enlarge. The subject here is below the viaduct and on its east or Wallingford* side. * aka East Fremont.

THEN:

THEN: Far-left, Playland’s Acroplane, a carni’ flight-simulator, stands admired by future pilots in 1932. Behind them sprawls the amusement park’s fated Fun House. (Courtesy, Ron Edge)

THEN: Chalk-written real estate notices to the sides of Seattle’s Aurora Speedway in 1937 prelude by several decades the profession’s book and computer listings and the expectation of some that an agent will now be driving a Mercedes.  (Courtesy, Washington State Archives, Bellevue Community College branch.)

====

Roughed at its foot but not fallen, an Aurora Safety Island on Dec. 3, 1937.  (Courtesy the Seattle Times)
Roughed at its foot but not fallen, an Aurora Safety Island on Dec. 3, 1937. (Courtesy the Seattle Times)
Today's Traffic Lesson on March 27, 1939.
Today’s Traffic Lesson on March 27, 1939.
Looking south on Aurora thru Roy and more safety islands on Dec. 8, 1938.
Looking south on Aurora thru Roy and more safety islands on Dec. 8, 1938. {Click to Enlarge]
A Seattle Times clip frm January 22, 1940.
A Seattle Times clip from January 22, 1940.
Aurora, looking north towards Ward Street on June 19,1940.
Aurora, looking north towards Ward Street on June 19,1940.
The Seattle Times, August 18, 1941
The Seattle Times, August 18, 1941
A City Light Clerk's shunned solution.
A City Light Clerk’s shunned solution.
North towards Valley and Aloha, on August 26, 1940
North towards Valley and Aloha, on August 26, 1940
Again near Crockett, this time two injured.  In The Times, August 25, 1950.
Again near Crockett, this time two injured. In The Times, August 25, 1950.
I expect by some its rarity but cannot prove it with any convincing negtive evidence (but it ever?) that such a press photo as this one for our local daily that depicts or reveals or exposes a victim-corpse is rare. The photo was printed on July 28, 1950.
I suspect but cannot prove that such a press photo as this that depicts or reveals or exposes a dying victim that has met an  irresistable object, including a safety island, is rare. The photo was printed in The Times on July 28, 1950.

CONCLUDING with a planned wreck from 1979.

Can you dear reader place this?
Can you dear reader place this?

 

 

6 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: “Murder” on Aurora”

  1. Loved your discussion of “Safety Island” and picture. Discussion in the paper over looked pedestrian safety but article above hit it well. I suggest between 1933 and about 1948 (when east/west transet arrived on 45th & 46th) perhaps 1000+ pedestrians were saved by those islands. Crossing Aurora was a challenge but necessary for us from the west side 3rd or 6th NW, the west Lincoln/Hamilton school bounfary. We hiked three miles am/pm to school and home. Most common was N42nd, but even with the ped bridge at 41st an extra 5 minutes was not desirable. Those islands served us well.
    The lack of the center barrier on Aurora also provided thugs an escape route as occurred at 8 am, June 9, 1951. Headed to UW I stopped at arterial at 39th and Fremont headed east. Clear both ways but a car hurtling airborne off the hill on Bridge Way, caught my eye, landing with dirt, smoke, sparks, I realized I was next in line. I jammed the tran in park rolled over on the seat and braced myself between seat and dashboard expecting engine to arrive in my lap. Somehow he passed on my left, bounced on the curb, traveled the distance past the corner building to hit the concrete hard clay bank behind. Passenger half way out windshield. He backed off but forced left due to damage disappeared over hill and stopped in vacant lot. Pulled buddy out and disappeared between houses. About 5 minutes later, seemed like eternity SPD showed up after they exited safely from Aurora.. They had been chasing stolen car (85mph) north on Aurora, at north end of bridge thugs swerved left across oncoming lanes and exited wrong way on the south bound on ramp and Bridge Way.into my lap. I went on to work, but it marked a moment in my life i was appreciative of every second I’m allowed to enjoy this frustrated world.

  2. The last photo is when the original Ernst Hardware store was torn down. The building also served as the headquarters to Pay & Save as well. Many thought it was strange that a chain hardware store would be found in the such a major urban area. The Seventh & Olive building was built after the rubble was cleared.

  3. Dramatic proof of the mid-20th Century privileging of motorists over neighborhoods and non-motorists’ safety!

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