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Seattle, 1962: Life Before the I-5 Freeway

Freeway construction is well underway in the 1962 photo of downtown Seattle. Source:General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-1905.

With the passage of the Federal Highway Act of 1956, a new national freeway system began to take shape. All over the country, workers demolished buildings and cleared land to make way not just for the highway, but for all of the associated infrastructure: entrances, exits, overpasses, bridges, and interchanges. This photo from October 1962 features the iconic Frederick & Nelson department store, which was located at 5th Street and Pine until Nordstrom purchased the building and renovated it. The absence of the I-5 freeway, now an integral feature of the Seattle cityscape, is jarring. Cities large and small in virtually every state experienced the same disorienting changes through the 1960s. In fact, the impact freeway planning and construction had on communities has been a topic of historical study since the 1990s. One such example is this oral history project on the effects of the I-90 freeway on the East Central Neighborhood in Spokane.

You can see this image and many others in the General Subjects Photograph Collection, 1845-2005

Written by Frank Oesterheld