Seattle Now & Then: Montlake Bridge construction, 1925

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Just months before it opened, the double-leaf bascule Montlake Bridge is seen here under construction on Feb. 6, 1925. Designed by the Seattle City Engineering Department, it measured 182 feet between trunnions, with a 68-foot-long reinforced concrete approach at either end. (Courtesy MOHAI)
NOW: On a calm day in April, a single sailboat passes beneath the bridge. The Montlake Cut today is lined with stately trees, several of which obscure the bascule bridge’s south tower. (Jean Sherrard)

Published in The Seattle Times online on May 25, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on May 28, 2023

The oft-rejected Montlake Bridge finally connected Seattle to a field of dreams
By Jean Sherrard

In the stirring 1989 blockbuster “Field of Dreams,” a 30-something farmer is driven to build a seemingly chimerical baseball venue in his cornfield.

Darwin “Dar” Meisnest, shown here in his 20s. A graduate of Lincoln High School and the University of Washington, he served as the university’s athletic manager in 1919-28. (courtesy David Eskenazi)

A similar drive might have inspired Darwin Meisnest, the University of Washington’s youthful graduate manager (athletic director in today’s parlance) as he lobbied for a permanent crossing of the Montlake Cut, which divided the UW’s new stadium from points directly south.

The final — and easternmost — bascule (French for teeter-totter) intended to traverse the Lake Washington Ship Canal (1916) was, for Seattle voters, a bridge too far. They already had funded completion of the Ballard, Fremont and University bridges but repeatedly balked at $500,000 to span the Montlake Cut.

Meisnest (1896-1952, popularly known as “Dar”) already was instrumental in the 1920 erection of the UW’s majestic new outdoor bowl, today known as Husky Stadium. He opted to bend his shoulder to the Sisyphean task of bridge-building.

The UW’s new stadium, completed in 1920

For the stadium’s inaugural football contest on Nov. 27, 1920, between Dartmouth and the UW, Meisnest installed a footbridge atop a row of barges that straddled the canal. Thousands of grateful south-side gridiron fans crossed over, packing just-christened Washington Field. (Dartmouth’s “Hanover horde” won, 28-7.)

Though teased by the temporary span, voters in 1921 continued to point thumbs down for the bascule.

An undaunted Meisnest then pulled out all stops, invoking school spirit. UW alums were encouraged to twist the arms of tight-fisted friends and neighbors. Throughout the city were posted dozens of printed signs bearing the slogan, “You have your bridge, let us have one, too!”

A twist of fate — unforeseen, or was it? — turned the tide.

Less than a week before a 1924 election in which a Montlake bond issue appeared on the ballot for the sixth time, the University Bridge malfunctioned, stranding thousands of unhappy motorists in a 20-block long traffic jam. Opined The Seattle Times, “Seattle should build the Montlake bridge now. Already it has been delayed too long.”

On May 8, voters finally and overwhelmingly agreed.

The completed Montlake Bridge, soon after its opening

In little more than a year, the Montlake Bridge was completed, opening June 27, 1925. Its graceful Gothic design mirrored the architecture of the university, as well as the nearby stadium.

: On a windy day circa 1929, boaters holding onto their hats fill the Montlake Cut in this exuberant Seattle Post-Intelligencer photo.

A hyperbolic Seattle Post-Intelligencer heralded its opening as an “epochal event” and a “milestone in the city’s forward march.” It singled out Meisnest (“not long out of his teens”) for his “mighty and untiring efforts,” even calling for a statue to be raised in his honor.

Not bad for the young booster who dreamt up a field and a bridge to reach it.


To see our narrated 360 degree video of the Montlake Cut, CLICK HERE.

Also, here is a one-minute video taken from the air on Feb. 27, 2021, focusing on the ASUW Shell House and Husky Stadium but that features the Montlake Bridge and Cut as part of the context:

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