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Historic photos show a brand-new Alaskan Way Viaduct

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The viaduct wasn’t always old and crumbling

The Alaskan Way Viaduct spans over a road with adjacent houses and buildings. This is an old black and white photograph.
The Alaskan Way Viaduct in 1956.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 53373

The Alaskan Way Viaduct’s days are numbered, with its decommission date fast approaching—the viaduct will close to cars forever on January 11. That starts a three-week process of switching State Route 99 connections through a brand-new tunnel. Once that process is complete, the viaduct will be demolished.

But the viaduct wasn’t always a crumbling, earthquake-vulnerable death trap. Back in the middle of the last century, it was a brand-new, long-awaited solution to increased city congestion. City officials started floating at least a similar idea as early as 1916, although discussions began in earnest during the 1930s—especially as the Aurora Bridge started piping more cars into downtown.

The viaduct is leaving the world in segments (including one that’s already gone), but it came to be in segments, too. Construction began in 1950, split up into a few segments across five contracts. The first grand opening was in 1953, running from Elliott Avenue to First Avenue S. The Battery Street Tunnel, then the Battery Street Subway, opened the next year, connecting the roadway to Aurora Avenue. The last stretch to open was the southern extension to Holgate in 1959—also the first stretch of the viaduct to go, torn down in 2011.

We’ve rounded up some photos from the Seattle Municipal Archives throughout the highway’s birth decade, from initial construction to final unveiling.

A black and white sketch of a street in Seattle.
An engineering department sketch of the Seneca Street offramp.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 60648
A viaduct in Seattle under construction. This is an old black and white photograph.
The viaduct just a few months after construction commenced in 1950.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 43080
The construction site of the Alaskan Way viaduct. This is an old black and white photograph.
The viaduct early in its construction.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 43036
The Alaskan Way Viaduct. This is a black and white photograph.
The Viaduct starts to tower over the waterfront in late 1950.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 43111
The Alaskan Way Viaduct and advertising billboards. This is a black and white photograph.
The Viaduct comes up against some vintage billboards in 1950.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 43037
A construction site for the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This is a historic black and white photograph.
The viaduct, pictured in 1951, starts to take shape.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 43501
A viaduct under construction. This is an old black and white photograph.
Viaduct construction progress by Colman Dock (with a ferry sign visible!) in 1951.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 43508
A viaduct in Seattle. This is a historic black and white photograph.
Starting to look like the now-familiar viaduct in April 1952.
The viaduct nears completion in October 1952.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 43599
The Alaskan Way viaduct in a black and white photograph.
The viaduct a month before the first segment’s grand opening in 1953—pictured at the site of a planned extension.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 66893
Construction taking place at the Battery Street Tunnel in Seattle. This is an old black and white photograph.
Some early work on the Battery Street Tunnel, April 1953.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 44265
A tunnel under Seattle.
Underground work on the Battery Street Tunnel in August 1953.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 44461
Cars lined up in the Battery Street Tunnel in Seattle. This is a black and white photograph.
Cars squeeze into the Battery Street Tunnel for a carbon monoxide ventilation test, July 1954.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 45797
A street with cars and a viaduct. This is a historic black and white photograph.
The final segment under construction in April 1956.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 53343
A construction site for the Alaskan Way viaduct. This is an old black and white photograph.
The southern extension about six months before opening in 1959.
An old photo showing cars driving on a viaduct in Seattle.
Cars travel down the completed segments of the Viaduct in June 1959.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 61755
Cars are on a road leading to the Battery Street Tunnel in Seattle.
The completed approach to the Battery Street Tunnel, pictured with the Seattle P-I globe visible in the background in 1959.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 61699
In the foreground is a viaduct in Seattle. In the distance is the city skyline of Seattle.
The upper deck of the viaduct, looking north from Atlantic Street in 1959.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 61757
Cars drive on a viaduct in Seattle.
The completed southern extension’s connection to the Spokane Street Viaduct and West Seattle, pictured on April 4, 1960.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 64248
An aerial view of the Seattle waterfront. There is a large body of water adjacent to many buildings.
A transformed waterfront in 1960.
Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, item No. 75970

Alaskan Way Viaduct

Alaskan Way Viaduct, , WA