Seattle Now & Then: The Battery Street Tunnel

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Some 180 idling vehicles simulate the worst possible traffic in the northbound Battery Street Tunnel in a successful test of the ventilation system (courtesy Ron Edge).
NOW: Crowds pass southbound through the tunnel, pausing to view Vanishing Seattle’s video projection, collected and assembled by artist/activists Cynthia Brothers, Jill Freidberg, and Rachel Kessler. Several times throughout the day, Brothers recounts, the vestigial ventilation fans powered up, flushing cold, clean air over the nostalgic walkers.
This week we conclude our final walkabout on the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a stroll through the Battery Street Tunnel, which was completed in July, 1954, a little more than a year after the viaduct’s opening ceremony. The tunnel connected the Viaduct to Aurora Avenue, fulfilling the promise of an efficient, new Highway 99 to divert and reduce the snarl of downtown traffic.
Our historical photo records a City Engineering Department test of the tunnel’s ventilation system. Lined up in two northbound lanes are 180 cars and trucks of city and state employees, simulating the worst of traffic jams, idling their motors for 30 minutes. (Modern eyes might also note the pipes and cigarettes adding to the haze.) Within minutes, 36 big fans were blowing enough fresh air into the tunnel that “the amount of carbon monoxide in the air … would not be dangerous to a person after eight hours of exposure,” claimed city engineers.


THEN 2: Battery Street tunnel under construction in 1953, looking west. The Hull Building, upper right, still guards the northwest corner of First and Battery. (courtesy, Ron Edge)

This past Feb. 2, 2019, I joined a line of ticket holders stretching round the block to enter the Viaduct via the Seneca Street off-ramp. Tens of thousands paid their last respects and bid a fond farewell – for some, a hearty good riddance – to the double-decked edifice admired for its spectacular, egalitarian views of Seattle and its waterfront. Gray skies clearing, the Hello/Goodbye Viaduct Arts Festival lined the upper deck with art exhibits, performers and food trucks.

Over the next few months, the half-mile of the Battery Street Tunnel will be filled to about seven feet from its ceiling with rubble from the Viaduct, then topped with low-density cellular concrete poured in through surface vents along Battery Street.

For our modern repeat, we look north along the southbound lanes of the tunnel, on whose walls the group Vanishing Seattle projected an evocative 15-minute video of collected photos, movie clips, and written memories of the viaduct. For more, visit or #vanishingseattle on Instagram or Facebook. To experience the last commute on the viaduct in 360-degree video, click on through.


Just a quick shout out to Clay Eals, the editor of our new book Seattle Now & Then: The Historic Hundred. (Incidentally, good news about the book. Out of an initial 5,000 copies, we are down to several hundred. And most of those sales were made, due to the book’s tardy arrival from China, in the month before Christmas!)

Together, Clay and I took that final commute along the Viaduct and recorded it for posterity; we also walked the Viaduct on its last pedestrian weekend, and among the photos I shot was this special portrait of Clay. Above his left shoulder (riding a Market pig) is the Terminal Sales Building on the corner of First and Virginia where his parents first met and courted. According to Clay, were it not for that structure, he would not exist!

Clay Eals poses below his parent’s “meet cute” building.

And below, a few more Viaduct snaps to round things out….

At the tunnel’s entrance
This view many will recall as the Needle appeared as if by magic just before entering the tunnel
A kinetic sculpture, installed for this final weekend
The band played on….

Chalk art perspective

Long shadows at sunset along the Pike Street hillclimb
Another lost perspective…
Ivar’s with ferry
Last view up Western from the Seneca ramp

Anything to add, spelunkers?

Alas my old MAC has at last failed me. Ron has gone to bed long ago, as is his steadfast habit of health, and so we have no Mac-machine to take Old Mac’s place. Perhaps next week we will get MAC going again, or more likely replaced with the new MAC purchased for me and given to me at my 80th birthday last Oct. 28, 2018. And so meanwhile Ron and I are not in this run. — Paul

3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: The Battery Street Tunnel”

  1. Great 360° video. Beats the vid I did holding iPad up on the dash with one hand and driving with the other.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.