The west end of the Magnolia Bridge, showing the steel bracings added over the years. File photo by Monica Wooton, 2000
The west end of the Magnolia Bridge, showing the steel bracings added over the years. File photo by Monica Wooton, 2000

Then

Today, there are only three ways to enter Magnolia: by car, one by train and countless ways by sea. Geographically, the area that lies between Magnolia Bluff and Queen Anne Hill, now known as Interbay, was a tide-flat region industrialized and settled during the early part of the 20th century.

The two current vehicle entrances serving the northern part of Magnolia require lower bridges that cross rail yards. The southern route has long had a larger, raised bridge to shuttle traffic in and out from the closest point to downtown.

The current bridge, named Magnolia Bridge, spanning Smith Cove, was formerly known as the Garfield Street Bridge. It has been in place for more than 80 years, but it was not the first bridge to service Magnolia’s southern end. During Magnolia’s early days, the bridges that connected the neighborhood with the rest of the city went through various iterations.

Hal Will discusses some of the early bridges in his essay entitled “Magnolia’s Wooden Trestles” in “Magnolia: Memories and Milestones.” He talks about an environment in which “Seattle’s shorelines were laced with trestles.” Timber was abundant, and there was much development taking place.

The first one was built on Grand Boulevard in the first decade of the 20th century. This was not “The Boulevard” that is well known to all Magnolians, but this was the old name for Dravus Street.

Around 1912, the first Garfield Street wooden trestle was built. It was in roughly the same spot that the modern bridge is, with one huge difference: It did not meet where it does today at the southwest tip of the bluff, but at 23rd Avenue and Newton Street; the grade was a lot less steep than it is today.

A little north of the Garfield Street trestle, there was also the Wheeler Street trestle, present in pictures from 1914. This bridge extended from 15th Avenue to Thorndyke Street, and it was crossed by a diagonal trestle running along Lawton Street.

There was also the little-documented South Shore trestle that seems to have connected 32nd Avenue in Magnolia to the tidelands, then snaked around the shore by Smith Cove to link up with other trestles. 

In Hal Will’s essay, he states that the Wheeler Street trestle burned down on June 30, 1924. According to Aleua Frare’s “Magnolia: Yesterday and Today,” this was caused by a spark from a passing train. It was reported in The Seattle Times that the replacement would cost the city $250,000.

Many ideas for replacement were proposed, even one that included a tunnel from Smith Cove to 30th Avenue in central Magnolia.

Joy Carpine, in her essay “Critical Connection: Bridge to the Bluff” in “Magnolia: Memories and Milestones,” reports that, very shortly after the Wheeler Street Bridge burned, concerned Magnolians from both the Magnolia Improvement Club and the Carleton Park Improvement Club (now known as the Magnolia Community Club) sent letters to the city lobbying for a more permanent solution. Although these bridges had only been in place for a few decades, it was clear that there were signs of decay.

In October 1925, a steel-and-concrete bridge was proposed. A few years of planning and discussion of the shared cost between the railroad companies, the city, the Port of Seattle and private citizens ensued.

Construction began in August 1929, and the Garfield Street Bridge was completed on Dec. 22, 1930; the total cost of construction was $774,907.

This was a major contributing factor to the Village gaining prominence as the center of commerce in Magnolia. In Gary McDaniel’s essay “Fill ‘Er Up” in “Magnolia: Making More Memories,” he states that the center of gravity shifted from the northern area of Fort Lawton down to McGraw Street: “The opening of the bridge caused the main flow of traffic through Magnolia to reverse itself; now it entered the southeast instead of the northeast.”

In 1960, the Magnolia Community Club petitioned the city to officially change the name to the Magnolia Bridge, and some repairs and improvements were made.

Aside from that, little happened to the bridge until 1997, when bad landslides on both sides of the bridge caused closures and delays. In Carpine’s essay, there is discussion of Col. David O’Denius and his wife Nancy’s plight when they nearly lost everything when their house at the base of the bluff near Smith Cove was completely destroyed by the landslide of 1997. Fortunately, they were not home at the time, and their dog, appropriately named Lucky, was rescued by police. This and other landslides, as well as the Nisqually quake of 2001, did considerable damage to the bridge. The Nisqually quake closed the bridge for nearly half a year, funneling traffic to Dravus Street and Fishermen’s Terminal.

The biotech corporation Immunex purchased land in Smith Cove with the promises of jobs, and an overpass was built on Elliott Avenue near the base of the Magnolia Bridge. During the acquisition of the property in 2001, a large corporation purchased Immunex, and the boon to the economy failed to materialize.

Now

The last 10 years have not been kind to the Magnolia Bridge. A quick Google search paints an unsettling picture of the precarious state that the Magnolia Bridge is languishing in.

According to the KIRO-TV article headlined “Though crumbling, no replacement in sight for Magnolia Bridge,” a net was installed at an undisclosed time in case of chunks of falling concrete.

King County’s website states, “Although the bridge is currently safe for motorists to use, it is vulnerable to severe damage in another seismic event. Continued deterioration has weakened the structure.”

KOMO-TV 4 reported that the bridge is inspected twice a year and patch jobs are done routinely.

The bridge is currently on the Seattle Department of Transportation’s priority list for replacement, but budget woes have hindered this development.

JEFFREY CUNNINGHAM is president of the Magnolia Historical Society (www.magnoliahistoricalsociety.org). To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.