SEATTLE HAD BIG DREAMS.The famed Seattle Spirit provided the money, muscle and moxie for the city’s remarkable transformation from boomtown to metropolis; it also encouraged dreamers — mostly visionaries and a few schemers — who had even grander ideas for the future.
From building skyscrapers to drilling tunnels, cutting away hillsides or bridging the lakes, their great notions soon changed the entire cityscape.
Seattle was not alone in its ambitions, as colossal engineering projects like the Panama Canal gave the world notice of America’s tremendous technological capabilities and “can do” spirit. But on a regional scale, the city’s projects were equally grandiose, if not occasionally outrageous.
Why not dig a ship canal from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington, fill in the lower half of Lake Union for more industrial space or build a giant commuter tunnel under First Hill? And while we’re at it, why not even get rid of all those hills blocking the city’s growth?
As taxpayers and politicians fought over how much it would cost, planners and builders forged ahead to redesign the city. Leading the way was R.H. Thomson, the intense city engineer who oversaw all municipal construction — from sewers and sidewalks to bridges and public buildings. A technical man with a streak of imagination, he let no natural obstacle stand in the way of completing the infrastructure of a great city.