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Originally published Sunday, December 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Now & Then

Pedestrian overpass on Seattle's busy Aurora Avenue saves lives

In the early 1930s, a new overpass helped wary pedestrians get safely across busy Aurora Avenue.

While discovering a forgotten pioneer photograph is, for me, an undiluted thrill, more recent historical photographs, like the one printed here, can also be stirring. This recording from the Seattle Municipal Archive shows a dozen fourth- or fifth-graders from B.F. Day School celebrating the completion of the 41st Street Pedestrian Viaduct over Aurora Avenue North. One of them — fourth from the left — is also testing his yo-yo over the ledge.

After a few months of appeals from PTAs, school officials (both at B.F. Day in Fremont and Lincoln High School in Wallingford) and some neighbors, this Gothic-Modern span was completed in 1935 over Seattle's then nearly new and dangerous speedway. The only recorded protest came from 35 Aurora homeowners who expressed their not-in-my-backyard objections that the viaduct might ruin their property. They preferred a tunnel. In fact, the rapid conversion of their home sites into motels and storefronts brought prosperity — and litter — to Aurora until Interstate 5 was completed in the mid-1960s.

The 41st Street Pedestrian Viaduct was a relief to frightened pedestrians of all ages. Note the two posts standing in the middle of Aurora. Designed as "concrete forts" where citizens could pause while crossing the speedway, they soon proved to be islands of destruction. Of the 37 deaths on Aurora in the five years after the 1932 dedication of the Aurora Bridge, 20 were pedestrians and 11 were motorists who crashed into these safety islands.

Note: House-history expert Greg Lange is giving a lecture on Fremont's landmark Fitch/Nutt house (featured here Oct. 28, 2007) at the Fremont Baptist Church, 7 p.m. Jan. 15.

"Washington Then and Now," by Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard, can be purchased through www.washingtonthenandnow.com ($45).

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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