A Book Review: Bridges of Seattle

Maureen R . Elenga’s new book The Bridges of Seattle was released by Arcadia Press on January 27. The book gallantly fights the constraints the press imposes on its huge list of history picture books and outdoes itself.

12 Ave S. 1912
Dearborn St. &  12 Ave. S. Bridge in 1912. SMA 6079

Elenga creatively mines the rich photographic resources of Seattle’s Municipal Archives. Many of the images selected for the book have not been previously published. She has an incredible knack for hitting topics that may have been previously neglected. The various troughs that preceded the Lake Washington Ship Canal are examples. The First Avenue South bridge is another.

In one concise paragraph, Elenga notes that the bridge is a double-leaf bascule type trunnion bridge just like the early designs on the Ship Canal, was designed by Bruce V. Christy of the (then) Seattle Engineering Department and is the “only floating pier bridge in the world.”

Just as she writes about the innovative aspect of the First Avenue South Bridge, Elenga ties the various threads of the book together highlighting how the designs of Seattle’s bridge builders who she never fails to name fit the now celebrated meme of Seattle as a creative center of the world. You know, Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Filson and others. It is a clever way to write a cohesive text within the almost Haiku strict rules of the Arcadia Press. But those rules also get in the way.

Elenga book review
!st Ave. S. Bridge. 1955 Aerial view of the first span. SMA 130316

Using that First Avenue South Bridge again as our example, Arcadia’s constraints apparently forced Elenga to omit important facts including the curious history of its construction and reconstruction. Wikipedia briefly mentions that the bridge consists of “a pair of double-leaf bascule bridges built between 1956 and 1998 that carry State Route 99 over the Duwamish River,” but Elenga does not have the room to tell us about the two dates of construction or even the rebuilding of the bridge required in 2001 by damage from the Nisqually earthquake.

Arcadia gives local historians rare opportunities to tell unknown stories, but just like Dorothy Laigo Cordova‘s Filipinos in Puget Sound, Elenga never has room to tell the full story, and readers have to remember that the books are really all about the photographs. After all, the Arcadia series is called Images of America and is more about sharing pictures than telling us a lot about them.

The Queen Anne Historical Society is delighted that Elenga is on its board and that she continues to make important contributions to what we know of Seattle’s rich and diverse history. Her encyclopedic knowledge of our built environment and the incredible patience and perseverance that go into producing a book like The Bridges of Seattle are phenomenal. The reviewer hopes Elenga finds the time and energy to morph this story into a full-fledged history of civil engineering in Seattle. It would be a wonderful tale.

The Space Needle’s New Views

Post by Rosalie Daggett and Marga Rose Hancock

As a beacon of the 1962 Century 21 / World’s Fair and a marker for the Seattle Center, the Space Needle holds a prominent place in Seattle history and its identity.

Above: Postcard Image of Space Needle with Helicopter, 1962
The John Graham Company (John Graham Jr. (1908-1991)) developed and designed the Space Needle, with architects John Ridley (1913-1997) and Victor Steinbrueck (1911-1985) and with structural engineering services provided by the Pasadena-based firm of John K. Minasian (1913-2007) and by Harvey H. Dodd & Associates, Seattle. Graham employee Lester Poole(1929-2018) recalled working with the team designing the Needle’s unique beams: “Howard Wright emphasized the critical schedule, asking ‘What have you got that can get this done quickly?’ We came up with the concept of three I-beams joining at flange corners. And people talked a lot about innovation in concrete.” Inspiration for the Needle came from a sculpture by David Lemon “The Feminine One.”
Above: Courtesy of Peter Steinbrueck

Above:  Drawing courtesy of University of Washington Special Collections Division, ARC0107; photo composite by Dale Cotton

At the time of its 1962 construction, the Space Needle became Seattle’s tallest structure — exceeding the Smith Tower, which until then had ranked as the tallest building west of the Mississippi.

As part of the World’s Fair 50th anniversary observance in 2012, Knute Berger had a residency on the Needle’s top level, and wrote the book Space Needle: The Spirit of Seattle.

Among other documentation of the Needle: B.J. Bullert’s Space Needle: A Hidden History; and Space Needle About/History.

Above:  Space Needle under construction, 1961. Item 77335, Miscellaneous Prints (Record Series 9910-01), Seattle Municipal Archives.

The 2017-19 renovation, known as the Century Project, designed by architect Alan Maskin with the Seattle architectural firm of Olson Kundig, added a revolving glass floor below the top viewing level, as documented in 2018 by KING 5 “Remaking an Icon.” This glass floor on the R-level, known as the “Loupe,” became the world’s first and only revolving glass floor in the air, at 500 feet. 

Above: Courtesy of the Queen Anne Historical Society, 2019 

On a brisk winter day, two ladies walked down Queen Anne Hill together to take in the new views and they pondered: next time you visit the Space Needle’s R level, will you wear a skirt?

Note: The Queen Anne Historical Society Landmarks Preservation Committee met with the Space Needle Corporation to review the early proposals for the Space Needle’s recent renovations, and monitored design development.  Society representatives spoke at Architectural Review Committee and Landmarks Preservation Board meetings leading to granting of the Certificate of Approval.