Seattle designates the 1962 Monorail as an historic landmark on April 16, 2003.

  • By Alyssa Burrows
  • Posted 4/23/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4159

On April 16, 2003, the Monorail, the popular elevated train built for the 1962 World’s Fair, is designated as an official Historic Landmark by a unanimous vote of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board.

Seattle architects and historic preservationists Susan Boyle and Andy Phillips filed the landmark designation request in October 2002. Six months later, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board unanimously voted to make the entire monorail system a landmark -- including the tracks and supporting concrete columns that run along 5th Avenue between Seattle Center and Westlake Center.

Having the columns as well as the trains and tracks designated as historic upset the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority, which had hoped to replace the columns as part of a proposed new 14-mile “Green Line” monorail. Green Line attorney Roger Pearce noted that new monorail trains could not travel on the old tracks, and argued that there was nothing special about the old columns. Likewise, Seattle Center officials, as well as the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority, hoped to preserve the trains, but not the columns or tracks. Boyle and Phillips countered that the columns reflected a “brutalist, no-frills style of architecture in the 1960s that ought to be remembered” (Seattle P-I, April 17, 2003).

But the landmark designation was subject to approval by the Seattle City Council. On August 4, 2003, the Council rejected the proposal to have the tracks and columns designated as landmarks, and voted 7-2 to preserve only the “red” and “blue” Alweg trains.

In 2005, following cost overruns and revenue shortfalls, Seattle voters killed the proposed new Seattle monorail project, and today (2009) the original monorail rolls on.

Sources: Mike Lindblom, “Coveted Landmark Status Puts Monorail Authority in a Bind,” The Seattle Times, April 17, 2003, (seattletimes.nwsource.com); “Old Monorail Beams Can Go,” Ibid., August 5, 2003, p. B-1;  Kerry Murakami, “Old Monorail is Declared Historic, Ugly Columns and All,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 17, 2003, (seattlepi.nwsource.com);  Kery Murakami and Jane Hadley, “Monorail to Ride into the Sunset,” Ibid., August 5, 2003, p. A-1; Historic Preservation Program, Department of Neighborhoods, City of Seattle website (www.cityofseattle.net/neighborhoods/preservation).
Note: This essay was revised on March 13, 2009.

Related Topics:   Buildings | Landmarks | Roads & Rails

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