Seattle Now & Then: Opening Ceremonies

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Probable members of the Seattle Photography Club, most likely taken by fellow member Horace Sykes in 1953, although we don’t know for sure. (courtesy, Lawton Gowey)
NOW: Denizens of the waterfront: from left, Kevin Clark, owner of Argosy Cruises and Tillicum Excursions; Ryan Smith, 3rd generation manager of Martin Smith, Inc., who own 15 historic buildings throughout downtown Seattle, including Piers 55 and 56; and the ubiquitous Bob Donegan, who helps manage Ivar’s from Pier 54.
Dear Pacific readers, both this week and next Jean Sherrard, our ‘repeater’ will also serve as our writer-researcher. Jean has been both climbing and covering the last days of our Alaskan Way Viaduct with his reaching pole and, as you will discover, his ready prose. Me? Because of something I ate, at my fresh age of eighty I’ll be ‘busy’ on the couch exploring my first vacation at The Times since I began this weekly service in the winter of 1982. Appropriately, perhaps, it is snowing. Paul.
Jean here, fresh from wandering an Alaskan Way Viaduct making its final curtain call, equal parts Irish wake and a celebration of new beginnings. A couple of minor mishaps at two major ribbon cutting ceremonies, separated by nearly 66 years, provide wry bookends to examine the nearly 66-year-long lifespan of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The first, on April 4th, 1953, marked its triumphal opening. Built for $8,000,000 (yes, you read that right!), the new double-decker highway was expected to funnel 25,000 vehicles daily above the confused tangle of downtown city streets, alleviating Seattle’s increasingly snarled traffic, and providing ample room for an expanding population.

On a lovely afternoon in April, one day before Easter Sunday, Seafair Queen Iris Adams handed a Paul Bunyan-sized four-foot long pair of silver scissors to Mayor Allan Pomeroy, who attempted to cut the ribbon. It creased but would not cut. “Aw, come on!” the mayor exclaimed. D.K. MacDonald, the director of the Automobile Club whipped out his pen knife and adroitly sliced the ribbon in half to the cheers of the crowd.

This February 2nd, dignitaries gathered again to celebrate the opening of the viaduct’s replacement, the double-decker Highway 99 tunnel bored out beneath the waterfront – a huge project of civil and civic engineering, dividing residents into conjectural camps: of views lost and gained, congestion abated or increased, a cityscape invigorated. Celebrants included past mayors, city and county council members, and Governor Jay Inslee, reputedly running for president. When the governor stood to address the crowd, however, his mic cut out. He improvised gamely, shouting at the top of his lungs, but his unamplified speech could scarcely be heard; nevertheless, minutes later, his smaller, sharper scissors separated the ceremonial green ribbon quite handily.
Ribbon cutting at the tunnel’s south entrance
This week’s “then” photo was taken a day or two before the opening ceremonies in 1953. Amongst the three photographers pictured here, comparing their gear, are unidentified enthusiasts, snapping shots from an exciting new vantage. Behind them stands Smith Tower, then 40 years old, and still the tallest building on the West Coast (unsurpassed until the Space Needle in ‘62). At its base, the gleaming flat-iron Seattle Hotel, built after the Seattle fire of 1889 (70-plus years will pass before it is replaced by the infamous “sinking ship” garage in the early 1960s). And on the left, the Mutual Life Building, whose signage remains intact, still anchors a corner of Pioneer Square.

Next week, we spelunk into the Battery Street tunnel, soon to be filled with viaduct rubble.


Just for fun, I’m including several photos below from that last crowded walk along the Viaduct.

Historylink staff gather on the viaduct
Pointing the way into an uncertain future?
Hello, Waterfront!
Splitting the difference…
Bob Donegan of Ivar’s (3rd from left) with fellow movers and shakers, illustrating the escape routes…
Last shadows at sunset (attention, Cynthia and Steve!)…
A final stroll and goodbye

Anything to add, lads?  Here’s some modest relevances to your splendid captures on our esemplastic (momentarily) arterials.


Now at 4am on the Sunday (March 10) that your paper is delivered and so also our blog that dances with it, something is sprained.   The company from which we rent the software and the platform for the blog has made some changes since last I used it a week ago. I missed the warnings and instructions in changes, which they, no doubt, consider improvements and most likely are.  I, however, abide in my pre-digital fog and will need to take some instructions for an oxtogenarian’s (spelling? – please correct the spelling on your own.) fumbling.  And while you are at it look up the latest definition of esemplastic.) I suppose it is a fortunate coincidence that next week’s feature is a continuation of our viaduct reflections.  And so we’ll move what we have missed and messed this weekend to a long and playful time of it all next weekend.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Opening Ceremonies”

  1. My dad, Jess Coppedge, was at the opening ceremonies in 1953. He was the purchaser for Morrison-Knudsen. Then he was on to working on the Battery Tunnel project. Every time we drove over the Viaduct he proudly said “I bought the materials that built this”! If he were alive he’d be very interested in modern materials and methods.

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