A Hidden Past
Getting On The Map -- The Desire To Cross Snoqualmie Pass Was One Impetus For Developing Roadways To The Eastside
Seattle Times Eastside Bureau
The maps are brittle now, creased and yellowed as they're unfolded, revealing a view of the past that's remarkable because of what's not there.
"Compliments of Hotel Mayflower" is stamped on one map, while an ad along the edge urges drivers to stay at the Shady Glen Auto Camp, 8600 Bothell Way.
There's no Interstate 405, no I-90, no Highway 520.
A 1949 map given away at a Chevron gas station lists local cities and populations, with Kirkland at 2,084 people. Bellevue isn't shown; it didn't incorporate for four more years.
Now sold as collectibles in antique shops, the maps provide a glimpse of how the Eastside has been shaped by dramatic changes in transportation.
Just west of Fall City, for example, a building that housed a gas station in the 1920s still stands, its pumps gone but its facade intact, with the same owner since 1949.
Orland Hodges, 78, says he bought the station mostly for the blacksmith shop out back rather than the gas pumps in front.
"Five or six cars would come by in the morning on the way to the mill" at Snoqualmie, he said. "Then there'd just be one or two more all day."
A few other vestiges of life before congestion remain.
Sections of the "Red Brick Road" that once formed the main route to Yellowstone Park still exist in Redmond and Bothell. A 1920s trestle is part of Kirkland's Juanita Bay Park.
Bothell has opened a small park to memorialize a one-fifth-mile stretch of brick roadway, with signs explaining how, before the bricks were laid in 1913, going to Seattle required a six-hour boat ride.
Another stretch of aging roadway runs alongside I-90 where the old Snoqualmie Pass Wagon Road winds down from Alpental Road at the summit. A water trough used to refill Model-T radiators still sits beside the road.
It was the desire to cross Snoqualmie Pass that led to many of today's Eastside roads.
"This has been the one pass through the mountains which our people have been ready and willing to plead for, to fight for, and to spend money for at any and all times," wrote Clarence Bagley in a 1929 history of King County.
Getting to the pass meant a trip of several days. Eastside historian Lucile McDonald told of settlers arriving in Bellevue in 1885 and finding an "impassable barrier" of brush and 200-foot trees.
Ten years later, only about a half-dozen main Eastside roads existed, mostly mud covered with logs, and including what is now Northup Way and Main Street in Bellevue.
The office of the state highway commissioner was created in 1905, and by 1916 King County proudly reported it had 54 miles of paved road.
The first attempt to bring state control to road building was the creation of the Washington State Good Roads Association in Spokane in 1899. Its original 14 members included W.W. Perrigo of Redmond and Lee Monohan of Renton.
"There was not one state highway centralized power in all our states" until then, a 1939 history recounted. "These roads were built by the local political power, with no plan, system or purpose beyond the convenience of the municipality known as counties."
By the 1920s, Lake Washington was encircled by roads, with Lake Washington Boulevard reaching Bellevue from the south in June 1920.
The first car crossed Snoqualmie Pass in 1905, although it would be 1931 before the pass was open in winter.
Road building then was cause for celebration. A 1939 opening of a "superhighway" beween Bothell and Seattle, now Lake City Way Northeast and Bothell Way Northeast, was marked by a parade, soap-box derby and street dance.
In 1937 the state Highway Department took over what had been a county road running roughly where 116th Avenue Northeast runs now, designating it Secondary State Highway 2-A. Twenty years later it would be picked as the route for I-405.
Over those years, the quest for better connections from Seattle to the east continued, resulting in the key event in Eastside transportation history: opening of the Mercer Island floating bridge in 1940.
One of the bridge backers was a publisher named Miller Freeman who saw it as a way to get crops from Eastern Washington to Seattle. A son, Frederick Kemper Freeman, was born in 1910, and worked with his father in publishing, built ships in World War II and became interested in real estate.
Kemper Freeman Sr., whose son, Kemper Freeman Jr., still runs Bellevue Square, was able to make the right land deals, and in June 1945 ground was broken for a 560-seat movie theater, the first building in what would become Bellevue Square.
"Bellevue Square was designed to cater to those who cherished the freedom of mobility which the automobile afforded," wrote Robert Karolevitz in a 1984 biography.
In 1956 the federal interstate-highway system was approved, and by 1957 the state was expecting to spend $62 million on freeways in the next two years.
The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge opened in 1963.
Jammed in a cardboard box at the new state-archives repository at Bellevue Community College, a 1966 state traffic-lane study gave a view of the expected future.
"It seems obvious that even with six lanes on 405, an additional north-south facility still will be needed for the 1985-1990 projected traffic," the study found.
It calculated that 26 freeway lanes would be needed to carry the projected 160,400 cars a day.
By 1968, those dreams were fading. A plan to build a freeway from Auburn to Bothell through Lake Hills was dropped after 200 people showed up to oppose it.
Eastside mass-transit systems also failed, with the last independent Eastside bus system, Metropolitan Transit Corp., merging into Metro in 1973.
The last ferry run to Kirkland ended in 1950. A new I-90 bridge was opened in 1993 after 30 years of disputes. No second north-south freeway was built on the Eastside.
In 1997, I-405 carried an average of 141,400 cars every day at Northeast Fourth Street in Bellevue.
Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.