Seattle's Fremont Bridge opens to traffic on June 15, 1917.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 3/23/2001
  • Essay 3129
On June 15, 1917, Seattle's Fremont Bridge, spanning the Lake Washington Ship Canal, opens to traffic. The bridge is built to connect the neighborhood of Fremont with the west side of Lake Union at the base of Queen Anne Hill. The Fremont Bridge is a bascule bridge with counterweight balancing and cantilevered "leafs" (the parts that raise and lower). It is painted blue and orange. The bridge clears the water by 30 feet and has opened and closed its double-leafed gates more than any other Seattle drawbridge. It is one of the busiest bascule bridges in the world.

The Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed in 1917. In the process, the creek connecting Lake Union and Salmon Bay was enlarged and became part of the canal, deep enough and wide enough for oceangoing vessels to enter. The old trestle bridges were taken down and the Fremont Bridge was built. The bridge employed technology developed in Chicago in 1898.

The Bridge Engineer was F. A. Rapp, and the pier design was by D. R. Huntington. The counterweight pits and workings are housed in two concrete piers, each of which has a tower.

In Made to Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County Lawrence Kreisman writes:

"The Fremont community attaches great value to the bridge as an identifiable and historically significant landmark. Bright orange was selected by the Fremont Community Council to distinguish their bridge from other bridges throughout the city, but it faded quickly, and the bridge is now painted blue with orange accents."

The current colors of the bridge were selected by a 1985 poll of Fremont residents and by the Fremont Arts Council. As of 2005, the bridge opens about 35 times a day. The community celebrated its 500,000th opening on September 20, 1991. By January 2006 the bridge had opened for marine traffic some 566,000 times.

Between September 2005 and June 2007, the bridge's 90-year-old approaches were replaced. This required the rerouting of Metro buses, many lane closings, and some bridge closings. The bridge's traffic signals, sidewalks, and curbs were also improved. SDOT reopened Fremont Bridge's four lanes on May 18, 2007. The bridge's mechanical and electrical structures will be renovated during the next year.

Sources: Lawrence Kreisman, Made To Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999), 72; "Bridges and Roadway Structures," Seattle Department of Transportation website accessed on June 15, 2005 and May 31, 2007 (
Note: This essay was expanded on June 15, 2005.

Related Topics:   Bridges | Roads & Rails | Seattle Neighborhoods

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