Alaskan Way Viaduct: Interview with Mike Fleming

  • Posted 10/30/2012
  • Essay 10228
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This is an interview with Mike Fleming concerning Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct. Mike Fleming was born in Seattle in 1941 and grew up in Yesler Terrace. He worked in banking for many years and has had a lifelong fascination with infrastructure and engineering. He also has very fond memories of the city during the 1940s and 1950s. The interview was conducted in October  2012 by Dominic Black.

Mike Fleming: I'm Mike Fleming -- I grew up in Seattle in the forties, fifties and sixties, and enjoyed living there. Lived up on First Hill.  We first moved into the Yesler project in 1941, moved out about 1954, 55, and eh, love the city.

DB: What do you remember about the Alaskan Way Viaduct around the time it was built?

MF: Oh we were kids -- I was probably about 10 or 11 at the time -- I and another friend rode our bicycles up through what was going to be the Battery Street Tunnel. It was under construction then. It was full of muck and that and it was kind of an adventurous ride for us to go in there -- we went in probably two hundred feet or more --  then turned around and came back out, rode our bikes back home and eh ... that was a big adventure, especially for a 10 or 11 year old. In those days you had access to construction sites like that -- it wasn't restricted like today.

DB: You weren't worried about getting in trouble or...

MF: No --- if someone said 'Leave' you just left. They didn't put you in jail or anything, they just asked you to leave, but that didn't happen in this case so.

DB: So was it - can you describe the tunnel? Was it actually just a tunnel into the earth or did it have siding on it?

MF: Oh I think it was what today they call a cut and cover - it was, you know they had a steam shovel in there. I can't remember exactly but I'm pretty sure it was open air. It was built as know the walls first and they put the lid on later. It wasn't a scary tunnel like you'd think of but it was an adventure for us you know.  

DB: What about the Viaduct itself?

MF: Oh when they built the second section from Yesler down to south of Spokane Street - just before they opened it -- I was out for a drive and my sister was with me and I said 'Hey let's go up - they're building this new road here, let's go up and see it.' She said 'You can't go up there.'  I says 'Well, if we go up there all they can do is kick us off.' So we drove up there then turned around and went back off it.

DB: So you drove on the southern section?

MF: The southern section before they opened it yeah. It was already completed and just, it was probably a week or two before they were going to open it.

DB: What do you make of something like the Viaduct now that at the time it was bult was seen as a great thing, and now is seen as something that's always been a problem for the city?

MF: Well it certainly was seen as a great new highway through Seattle. You know you're talking about the fifties when we didn't have a freeway and people had to drive down streets with stoplights, and this was easy access to get around - certainly to get around the downtown area to jobs in the south end of Seattle. But today it's seen as blocking the access to the waterfront from the downtown area. The city's certainly diferent today than it was back in the fifties, and I think it's a good thing they will take it down and replace it with a tunnel.

DB: So you won't miss it then?

MF: No I won't miss it. I'll enjoy the waterfront, as I did when I was a kid - enjoy it more. I'll enjoy it with my grandkids. So no, I'm not going to miss it.  

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