Pacific Northwest | June 22, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineJune 22, 2003seattletimes.com home
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CONTENTS
COVER STORY
PLANT LIFE
TASTE
ON FITNESS
NORTHWEST LIVING
NOW & THEN
SUNDAY PUNCH
LETTERS
PREVIOUS ISSUES OF PACIFIC NW


WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT

With Open Arms

Photo
COURTESY OF MARGARET WILHEMI
The nearly two-year-long construction of the Fremont Bridge began in the late summer of 1915. It first opened to traffic on June 15, 1917, in time for the July 4th dedication of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. This construction scene was photographed in the summer of 1916 soon after the canal was flooded behind Hiram M. Chittenden Locks to the level of Lake Union. Both views look east across the canal to the north pier of the bridge.

 
 Photo
PAUL DORPAT
This record in the construction of the north pier of the Fremont Bascule (French for teeter-totter) Bridge was taken soon after the Lake Union outlet was transformed into one of the more picturesque sections of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The waterway between Fremont and Ballard was flooded to the level of Lake Union on July 12, 1916, when the gates of the locks at Ballard were closed.

Here, probably in late July or August 1916, a dredger scoops up submerged pieces dropped during the construction while it carves the channel to the fairly deep standard required for oversized ocean-going ships. Soon, however, it became apparent that mostly recreational vessels, not dreadnoughts, were answering the call to this new fresh-water harbor.

In 1991, after the bridge had counted roughly half a million openings, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce proclaimed it the "busiest bascule on planet Earth."

Although motorists may not have noticed, the incidence of the three-minute openings at Fremont has begun to slack. In 1998 the bridge opened about 7,200 times; about 900 fewer interruptions were recorded last year. The explanation is probably some combination of the recession and an increase in moorings at salt-water marinas. It is also possible that powerboats are gaining popularity over sailboats. Even big crafts without sails, like the Goodtime III seen cruising under the bridge in the "now" scene, are still in no danger of scraping the bridge, which at only 30 feet above the channel makes it the lowest bascule on the canal.

Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy's encyclopedic history of Washington state public works, "Building Washington," is available through Tartu Publications, P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145. The book, which won a Governor's Award for writing, sells for $50.

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