Latona Bridge spanning Seattle's Lake Union is dedicated on July 1, 1891.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 6/02/2001
  • Essay 3328
On July 1, 1891, the first Latona Bridge, which spans Seattle's Lake Union, is dedicated. The fixed-span bridge crosses Lake Union from the Eastlake neighborhood to the University District, and supplants a certain amount of rowboat traffic on Lake Union. It crosses the lake at the position of the future Interstate-5 bridge. In 1919, the University Bridge (a bascule bridge) replaces the Latona Bridge.

David Denny built the Latona Bridge as an extension of his Rainier Power and Railway Co. He completed his line (which commenced at 3rd and Yesler downtown and ran to NE 55 Street and 22nd Avenue) just about when the economic Panic of 1893 hit him hard. The line went bankrupt. In 1900, the Seattle Electric Co. took over the bridge. Eventually the city became responsible for it.

The Latona Bridge was rebuilt and widened in 1902 to serve pedestrians and vehicles as well as streetcar traffic. In 1909, four million people crossed the Latona Bridge, coming from downtown, to attend the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held on the University of Washington campus.

In 1912, the bridge received a new deck and an asphalted surface. By 1916, the bridge was in deplorable disrepair. United States participation in World War I made steel expensive and scarce. The bridge foreman made a plea for planking and material to repair the deck and approaches just one more time.

After the Lake Washington Ship Canal opened to ocean going vessels in 1917, the Latona Bridge had to be remodeled to open, awkward as that was, until such a time as the University Bridge was completed. Paul Dorpat writes:

"The Latona Bridge, in its 11th hours, was two bridges whose antipathetic designs were best detected when they were opened ... to permit passage for any vessel that required the bridge tender to plod through the tedious steps required to lift one bridge (for trolleys) and swing the other to the side (for everyone else). The original Latona Bridge was simple with a fixed span. The complicated mechanics [of the modified bridge] were required when the completion of the ship canal in 1917 opened Lake Washington to ocean-going ships" (Dorpat).

The Latona Bridge was replaced by the University Bridge, which opened to traffic in July 1919.

Sources: Myra L. Phelps, Public Works in Seattle: A Narrative History: the Engineering Department, 1875-1975 (Seattle: Seattle Engineering Department, 1978), 45-46; Paul Dorpat, "Now & Then: The Latona Bridge," The Seattle Times; Northwest Magazine, January 13, 1991.

Related Topics:   Bridges | Roads & Rails | Seattle Neighborhoods

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