Seattle construction is booming. Downtown Seattle set a record this July for construction activity at a record $5 billion, a 40 percent increase from the same time last year. Fueled by ever-expanding tech companies and a population growth of 1,000 people per week, Seattle’s construction boom is unprecedented. Though growth has never reached this pace or these heights, the city has seen other periods of rapid construction and development. Here is a look back at some of Seattle’s most interesting construction projects.
Fremont Bridge under construction, 1916
The Fremont bridge was constructed to connect the neighborhoods of Fremont and north Queen Anne. The total cost of the bridge was $410,000 and it was built in the bascule style with two leaves that open for passing boat traffic. At a street fair in 1984, citizens of Fremont voted to update the bridge’s paint colors to bright blue with orange trim. Today the bridge opens over 35 times per day, making it one of the busiest in the world.
Yesler Building under construction, 1909
The Yesler building originally provided a space for Seattle City offices, the City jail, an emergency hospital, the police department, and a health and sanitation department. It even included a penthouse for a nurse’s residence. Seattle’s population nearly doubled in size between 1850 and 1900, driving up concerns about public health. The Yesler building was celebrated for its cleanliness and modern ventilation system.
First slab of seawall being placed, 1934
It became apparent in the early 1900s that Seattle needed a seawall. Infected rats from the waterfront were spreading the bubonic plague among dock workers. Restaurants and markets along the waterline were dumping sewage into the water, creating a dangerous cesspool. The city began construction on part of the seawall in the 1910s and 1920s. The more challenging northern portion was completed in 1936. According to HistoryLink, the wall holds back the sea from “the quarter-million cubic yards of fill placed behind it to provide solid, level ground on which to build streets, lay railroad tracks, and handle passengers and freight moving between land and sea.”
University Bridge under construction, 1932
The University Bridge was reconstructed in 1932 and 1933. The timber trestles were replaced with concrete and steel, the wooden block paving on the deck was replaced with an Irving Open Mesh steel deck, two additional lanes were constructed on the lift span, and the control towers were rebuilt. The use of open steel-mesh grating on the University Bridge was the first use of this technology in the United States. The open mesh reduces the chances of the bridge blowing over and the steel made it safe for cattle and horse crossings.
Alaskan Way Viaduct under construction, 1952
Seattle traffic jams aren’t a new phenomenon. In the 1920s, the Seattle waterfront and downtown area was heavily congested with trucks and automobiles. City engineers began to look for a bypass route. An elevated roadway along the waterfront emerged as a solution in the 1910s and the concept slowly developed in the 1930s and 1940s, according to HistoryLink. After years of controversy, the Great Depression and WWII, Seattle finally reached a point where it had the means and know-how to build the Alaskan Way Viaduct expressway. Today, it is in the process of being torn down and replaced with a tunnel to accommodate even more traffic safely.
Lake Forest Park Reservoir under construction, 1962
In 1936, the City of Seattle first applied for water rights on the Tolt River, which flows from the Cascade foothills in northeast King County, but it was not until the 1950s that work on the new supply began. The first delivery of Tolt River water to the Lake Forest Park Reservoir was in 1962. In addition to serving North Seattle, the new Tolt pipeline provided water to the City of Duvall and several water districts east of the north end of Lake Washington.
West Seattle Bridge under construction, circa 1983
During WWII, thousands of workers flooded into work at defense plants on Harbor Island. By the end of the war, West Seattle’s population had doubled to more than 70,000. Two small bascule bridges failed to handle the increased traffic. The Seattle City Council authorized construction of a new larger, taller bridge in 1972, but the project was delayed for years by a scandal involving kickbacks to public officials. By 1978, West Seattleites wanted to secede from Seattle and reincorporate as an independent city, in an effort to qualify for state highway funds and build the bridge on their own. The problem was solved that same year when a freighter rammed one of the bascule bridges and destroyed it. Senator Warren G. Magnuson quickly rounded up $110 million in federal money to help build the high bridge. Construction began in 1980 and the bridge opened four years later.
Safeco Field under construction, 1998
The plan to use public funds for Safeco field was a very unpopular decision. The final cost of the park was $517.6 million, a record for a US stadium at the time. The team’s owners paid an initial $45 million plus the overruns and received $40 million from a Seattle-based insurance company to call the stadium Safeco Field. An eventual $380 million was paid by taxes garnered from restaurants, bars, rental cars and tickets sold at the stadium. Not everyone felt this was a fair use of public funds, but the success of the Mariners in the nineties and the fancy amenities of the new field won the public over.
Qwest Field (CenturyLink Field) under construction, 2001
Voters approved funding for the construction of Qwest Field in a statewide election held in June 1997. The stadium was built between 2000 and 2002 on the site of the Kingdome. The vote also created the Washington State Public Stadium Authority to oversee public ownership of the venue.
Amazon Biospheres, 2017
Photo: Seattle City Council/Flickr
In May of 2017, the first of 40,000 plants was installed inside the Amazon Biospheres. Once completed, the spheres will be 100-foot-tall glass domes with steel frames containing over 300 different species of plants from 30 countries around the world. The spheres will open in early 2018.