The Threat of a Secondary Freeway…1960 to 1972 in Seattle!

The Tacoma-Seattle-Everett freeway open to traffic December of 1962. Historylink says it was February 3, 1965 . I remember riding in the car with my parents and taking the Lake City exit just for fun. This freeway cut Seattle in half and it is extremely busy and more so today. We have a north-south axis in Seattle and it makes it difficult to get around even the buses are oriented that way. Apparently the freeway was opened in sections with Seattle to Everett later on.

This link and the photos are pretty eye-opening on how this freeway affected Seattle.

The I-5 Freeway through Seattle is both a blessing and a curse.  I really don’t like our freeway and am fortunate I know how to get around the city having lived here all my life. I even lived in various areas like north Seattle, Eastlake, Fremont, Green Lake, the University District, Beacon Hill, and Shoreline. I actually like going the city streets because I get to see what renovations they are doing to my city. HA!

There was a curious twist to the history of the Seattle Freeway. That twist was called the R.H. Thomson Expressway.  It was another part of this freeway system that was being designed in the 1950’s.

If it had been built it would have taken my parent’s home. My childhood home would have been torn down to make way for a freeway or parkway. They would have been displaced in their 50’s, along with lots of other people.  Many neighborhoods would have been completed changed forever.

Fortunately, it was dropped by the Seattle City Council with a final Referendum in 1972 that killed the project. However, a few occasionally try to bring the R.H. Thomson freeway back. There are always references to the freeway ramps that go nowhere in the Montlake District.  They took them down, but I liked them because it would remind me of my Dad.

There was an organization called CARHT – Citizens Against the R.H. Thomson and according to an article written there were 13 organizations that were members of this organization. The author is Margaret Connon Johnson, written on July 1979. Title: The Montlake Community and the R.H. Expressway.  It appears to be housed at the Seattle Public Library. This PDF is 86 pages and is very detailed about the history of the R.H. Thomson and other projects being proposed at that time. Here is the link:

References in this PDF to the Ravenna Club in which my father, Keith, was involved can be found on several pages:

William Frantilla spoke of the Ravenna Community Club, which had become mobilized because of concern in the neighborhood about the impact of highway building on their northend community.” page 28.

page 32:  CARHT’s 4 points:  We oppose the R.H. Thomson route as a major traffic corridor. 2) We are against the proposed third and fourth Lake Washington Bridges. 3) We support a comprehensive mass transit system. 4) We oppose any further urban highway construction in the Seattle area until a comprehensive mass transit system has been authorized by the voters. The first five community groups to support the CARHT four-point program were the Ravenna, University Park and Montlake Community Clubs, the Harrison Improvement Council and the Mount Baker Improvement Club. 

page 41: The letter (buying up of land) was signed by the presidents of CARHT, Montlake Community Club, Ravenna Community Association, Capitol Hill Community Council, University Park Community Club, Mont Baker Ridge Action Group, Mount Baker Community Club, Leschi Community Council, Madrona Community Council, Harrison Community Council and the Central Seattle Community Council. 

“In closing, let me again emphasize that the Montlake community did not act alone; nor was the Thomson route through Montlake the only target of CARHT. Many organizations, many people were involved. The Ravenna Community Club mobilized more people than did Montlake.”

North Route of the Thomson freeway

North Route of the Thomson freeway

My Dad wrote to me when I was in college and he makes remarks about meetings he attended. He mentions attending Forward Thrust meetings and here is a link giving a quick explanation of that organization and its goals.

Here are my Keith, my Dad’s, comments:

Feb 6, 1969:  Tuesday Eve I went to a Fwd Thrust discussion. It was familiar stuff. When the environmental Consultants quickly rushed thru their stuff it was interesting even though it seemed remote…You have heard me chirping about City Transit subsidizing. I saw where at last the Council was thinking about stuff I chirped about over a year ago. Now I have to find a new topic. 

Feb 26, 1969 Monday evening M and I went to the monthly meeting of the Ravenna Community Club. Councilwoman Mrs. Lamphere was supposed to speak, but she went skiing over the weekend and Councilman Tim Hill had to pinch in for her. Attendance wise it was a bust, after peddling about 400 papers…Tuesday I went to a Fwd Thrust Transportation meeting. It certainly is nice to listen to people that know how to use their new brains. One person a Real Estate Economist proposed a bus system with centered stations. He pointed out that Downtown was not a point zero, and that the rail idea was too costly. He has to hustle to sell his point of view. It was great to see him he handled his pitch. Wish I could do it that good. 

March 5, 1969 – Went to a Fwd Thrust Transportation Session from 7:30 to 11. They have a schedule of completion with an April deadline. Its tough to try to stay with it…The State Hiway has been buying property doing the Thomson Way on the quiet. They got caught. Now there is a hassel over it. The city ended up having to resell these homes after 1972.

April 16, 1969 – Thursday the Lake Cityites will hold a Fight the Freeways confab. I’ll attend for Kicks. 

May 6, 1969 – The Ravenna deal is really going. I went to a meeting a Monday ago. I couldn’t believe it there was over 200 people. They had a good Times report on a statistical survey they pulled…Tonite its Fwd Thrust. I’m getting informed, but what will I do with the savy I’ve acquired?

May 25, 1969 – The Forward Thrust meeting last Thurs was significant. The Hiway revolters chirped. I believe the FTers who are cousins with the hi-waymen were shocked a bit. During the summary the chairman commented he was not sure of Mr. Thomsons position. He knew to listen and look ____ (I may have been Mr. Thomson) I’ll get the Interim Thrust going…yet. 

Don’t expect me to make sense of my Dad’s comments above. He had an odd sense of humor.  He was in the middle of the whole controversy from what I can figure out.

I know that Dad rented a “puddle jumper,” I mean a small airplane, probably the ones at Lake Union that land on the water, and flew over the area that the proposed freeway would be located. He took all that information and made two presentations boards on thin wood with maps and drawings and newspaper articles about the whole project. He used the R.H.Thomson Expressway Canal to Bothell “Corridor B Location plans from the Seattle Engineering Department Bridge and Arterial Design Nov. 9, 1962 as his background. As for the photos I don’t know what happened to them for I don’t have his negatives.

Freeway Presentation Boards 1967

Freeway Presentation Boards 1967

“The Ravenna Community Association – In the summer of 1967 Keith alone on foot delivered to every home in the Bryant-Ravenna area of the R.H. Thomson corridor his letter questioning the Thomson freeway. This letter raised so many questions in the minds of the residents that the community realized that an organization was necessary. Not one to rest, Keith provided the aerial photographs an enlarged maps of the areas to be paved so that everyone recognized fully the impact of the planned highway. Mr. MacDonald served as the first treasurer of the Ravenna Community Association.”  Submitted in 1970 and this organization still exists.

Five Proposed Routes

Five Proposed Routes on one of the boards

Here is a summary of the articles glued onto the Presentation Boards. It is possible that they could be found again probably taken from the Seattle Times or P.I.

  • Public Hearing Due – Four Routes Considered for Empire Expressway in North, Tuesday, Sept 2nd and 4, 1965 Page ?
  • Empire Expressway City Favors 25th NE as Corridor Route, Times, Page 1, Thursday Sept 4, 1963 maybe 1965. This article was all but destroyed.
  • Park Board is Concerned at Expressway, Sept 2, 1963, Thurs.
  • City Affairs, Arguments on Expressway Routes Set, Times, Tues, Sept 10, pg. 15, 1963.
  • Planners Favor 25th N.E. Route, Page 17, Tues or Mon Sept 6, 1963 Times
  • …….torn ion, of Expressway Route is Asked. Page 1, Nov. 13 or 15, 1965.
  • R. H. Thomson Names (torn), Don’t look for Signs (torn) xpressway Yet, Times Sept 29, 1983 pg. 14?
  • torn..not at Hearing….essway Routes Friday, Sept, 13, 1963 – Decision at Least 2 months Away.
  • Sports Financial page 29 – 25th NE Is only Logical Route, Says City Engineer, – Sept 15, 1963, pg. 29.
  • Wedgewood Favors 25th NE Routing – Tues Sea Times, Sept 10, 1963 page 10.
  • Expressway Expressions – 25th NE Alternative Hit, Pge 3 Times Sept 4, 1963 Thurs.
  • Expressway Route Hit by Northeast Residents, The Seattle Times, Tuesday, Sept 10, 1963.
  • Article ares totally destroyed and not possible to read
  • City, State to Urge Tube in Union Bay – no date
  • (torn)……ow on Street Vacations (Other article on page reads “Donors of $3…) Sec 11, 1963 pg. 60, not date.
  • Expressway Tube Plan Discussed – P I? Thurs Feb 20, 1964 pg. 37
  • City Affairs: Hearing Set on Arterial Improvements – Times Wed 12/4/63 pg. 23.
  • Next article is destroyed and unreadable.
  • V Corridor “B” area (PhotoBoard) 1967  (Space & Time)  K.B. MacDonald – with contact information.
  • Real Estate – North of Canal – Decision on Expressway Due Sooner, Seattle Times, June 25, 1964, Page 3
  • Letter typed and signed by my father. Partially torn 
  • Here’s Route Proposed for R. H. Thomson Expressway, Nov. 24, 1963 Times pg. 17, with maps and aerial views of the areas.
  • Expressway Route, Jan 30, 1964 pg. 3
  • Retired Teachers, Times pg. 14 Oct 4, 1967.
  • Picture of a sad Lady up against a house crying, the rest of the article is torn very badly
  • More of the aerial views of the area in question probably from number #1 above.
  • There is a background map that my father glued to the wood and then added the articles on top from the City Engineering Department. He then colored in some of the areas that were affected in read and yellow to show the extent of the corridors impact.  It spanned from 45th to 95th up at Lake City Way.  It was about 3-4 blocks wide.  In the widest area it started at Ravenna and went to 26th NE taking in 23NE, 24NE, 25th and then 26NE.

Here are some recently found Seattle Times Articles that I zeroed in on:

Seattle Times, Acquisition for Thomson Route Not Near, Tuesday, November 5, 1964 – maybe a long time before any private properties are taken for the north section of the R.H. Thomson expressway. The city has determined that the most desirable route would be along or near 25th Ave. NE. 

Seattle Times, Second Front Page, A, Thursday, October 5, 1967 – Empire Way Project Has Grown Big! by Herb Robinson, Assoc. Editor.  This is more about the expansion of the project for the Thomson Expressway.

Page A, Tuesday, March 12, 1968 Seattle Times

How State Views Parkway, by Herb Robinson, Assoc. Editor, The Times – about the elaborate plans to make it a “…a depressed roadway and rapid-transit right of way flanked or covered over by housing, shops, schools, parks and the like — a radical departure from what highway engineers had in mind during the original planning.…”  This was all dumped because they thought a rapid-transit system could transport some of the future loads but that was knocked down too, something called Forward Thrust.

The Seattle Times, March 17, 1968, page 39 – Map Shows Proposed Thomson I-90 Routes.

Seattle Time, G12, Sunday, March 19, 1972 – Thomson Project, It’s dead, but a hundred properties remain.  This article talks about the homes bought for the project and that would need to be resold.  From what I have learned they City did not take care of these homes that they had purchased.

Some websites of interest regarding the R.H. Thomson Expressway:

…..Thomson was supposed to have been memorialized by the R.H. Thomson Expressway,[1] which was scheduled to have run north from Interstate 90, through the Central DistrictMontlake and the Washington Park Arboretum, under Union Bay, and through Ravenna to an interchange with a proposed Bothell Freeway. In 1972, voters rejected the project, which the City Council had definitively abandoned in 1970.

In Summary:

What I have presented here is very limited. The R.H. Thomson Freeway was a major project of the 1960’s here in Seattle along with other projects being considered. You could spend hours and days studying what really happened. Ms. Johnson’s PDF written on July 1979. Title: The Montlake Community and the R.H. Expressway is very detailed about the R.H. Thomson and other projects being proposed at that time, here is that link again:

If my Dad’s project boards had been in better shape, I would have given them to MOHAI, or the Seattle Archives or even the UW.  I think he would have liked that.

Please be advised that these links may go away at any time, so if you are interested make copies now, don’t wait.

About BJ MacDonald

Interested in travel, really into genealogy and researching my family history, classic novels and movies, fantasy and science fiction, photography, history and more... Here is a tip. Make sure you are commenting on the blog you were visiting and the post you were interested in. My blogs are listed by hovering over my pictures and clicking. Clicking one of them will take you back to the correct blog. You can try me here:
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2 Responses to The Threat of a Secondary Freeway…1960 to 1972 in Seattle!

  1. Byrna Klavano says:

    Very interesting. I remember the hanging freeway ramps at the south end of Seattle. Your Dad was a ‘shaker and mover’ besides being an inventor and builder!


    • BJ MacDonald says:

      Yes, they were there for a very long time those hanging freeway ramps. I would always think of my Dad when I drove by them. The impact of all the projects they were trying to get going back then was amazing, I didn’t realize all that was planned. Like I said you could spend hours studying all of it. My Dad was not outgoing so the fact that he took 400 letters out into the community to try and rally people amazes me. I wonder if I was to dig further at the Seattle Municipal Archives, MOHAI and the UW if I would find his name. Thanks for your comments. Bonniae


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