AKA: City of Seattle, Department of Transportation (SDOT), Montlake Bridge, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - infrastructure - transportation structures - bridges

Designers: City of Seattle, Office of the Chief Engineer, Blackwell, J.D. (firm); Abraham Horace Albertson (architect); J. D. Blackwell (civil engineer); Edgar Blair (architect); Daniel Webster McMorris Sr. (engineer); Irving Harlan Thomas (architect)

Dates: constructed 1923-1925

Seattle, WA

OpenStreetMap (new tab)
Google Map (new tab)
click to view google map

Building History

Completed in 1925, this was the fourth and last double-leaf bascule bridge erected to span the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Funding the bridge was a challenge, as voters in Seattle rejected ballot measures on five occasions between 1913 and 1922. On 06/30/1914, Seattle voters passed bond initiatives to fund the Ballard and Fremont Bridges, located in densely industrial areas, but voted down requests for funding the University and Montlake Bridges on the more residential east side of the canal. The completion of the University of Washington Stadium on 11/27/1920 proved a major impetus for the completion of an autombile bridge spanning the Montlake Cut. Each autumn, nearly 30,000 spectators drove their Seattle-made Model Ts to the new facility, requiring good roads and bridges to ease the congestion. An editorial in the Seattle Times three days before the stadium's opening: "The Montlake Bridge must be built by Seattle to serve the great Stadium on the University grounds. Only by the construction of the new bridge can the inevitable autombile traffic congestion be relieved. Over it street cars can be operated, if desired, to the gates of the field. In addition, a direct route to the University will be provided from one of the most populous residential districts of Seattle. When the canal was being constructed, the city took advantage of conditions to build the concrete pillars for the bridge. Consequently, all that remains to be done is to put up the steel framework. The expense of this work was estimated in 1919 at $750,000." (See "Editorial: Must Provide New Bridge to Serve Stadium," Seattle Times, 11/24/1920, p. 1.) Gradually, this argument picked up steam, and another vote in 1923 passed the referendum, but was annulled on a technicality. A vote in 1924 finally provided the financing to complete the project. Interestingly, the UW Athletic Manager Darwin Meisnest (1896-1952) played a pivotal political roll in getting both the stadium and the bridge built.

Two lawsuits by the Chicago-based Strauss Bascule Bridge Company served to slow the bridge progress during 1921 and 1925. Strauss contended that the two 1914 bridges erected in Ballard and Fremont infringed on patents owned by the company. The City of Seattle settled out of court for $45,000, much less than the $350,000 originally sought. Strauss saw another opportunity to cash in while the Montlake span was being erected, although this suit was thrown out when the Chicago company was discovered to have infringed on an even earlier patent. (See John Caldbick, "Montlake Bridge (Seattle)," HistoryLink.org Essay 10216, published 02/11/2013, accessed 12/03/2015.)

Coordinator of Design and Construction, D.W. McMorris, began the drawings for the Montlake Bridge in 1923; a double-leaf trunnion bascule bridge, it opened for automobile traffic on 07/27/1925. McMorris associated with City Engineer, J.D. Blackwell and Architectural Advisors, Edgar Blair, Harlan Thomas and A.H. Albertson, on the design of this Gothic Revival structure. It is often assumed that the University of Washington Campus Architects Bebb and Gould produced the remarkable Gothic designs for the Montlake Bridge's two towers. Sally Woodbridge and Roger Montgomery in their Guide to Architecture in Washington State: An Environmental Perspective, said that "The 'Gothicky' towers were designed by the university architect, Carl Gould, to harmonize with the campus buildings." (See Sally Woodbridge and Roger Montgomery, Guide to Architecture in Washington State: An Environmental Perspective, [Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980], p. 172.) There is no evidence to support this contention, however, and the design of the bridge has been attributed to the city engineer and his architectural advisors.

Construction on the bridge began on 07/08/1924. Eight-story tall concrete piling already stood out of the canal, so the $160,000 contract went to the building of the steel and concrete roadbed, supporting steel members and the north and south drawbridge keeper's towers. The Wallace Equipment Company won this contract. the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company supplied $26,133-worth of electric motors, cables, hardware and wiring needed to hoist the bascules into the air. C.L. Creelman won the $160,000 contract the build the bridge's roadway connections. (See John Caldbick, "Montlake Bridge (Seattle)," HistoryLink.org Essay 10216, published 02/11/2013, accessed 12/03/2015.)

Building Notes

The Historic American Engineering Survey has documentation available on the Montlake Bridge.

National Register of Historic Places (Listed 1982-07-16): 82004242 NRHP Images (pdf) NHRP Registration Form (pdf)

PCAD id: 5141