RERUNS: 520@50: Garbage, time and habitat

Image: Montlaker via Seattle Municipal Archives #30545 – 30549

The recent news that Eva, Eddie the Eagle’s widow, has new eaglets in her nest was happily received by 520 commuters, park-goers and residents alike. The habitat around the freeway has come a long way since it was drained, dredged and regraded fifty years ago — and before that abused during its days as the Miller Street garbage dump.

When the Olmsted Brothers redesigned Washington Park into botanical gardens and an arboretum during the 1930s, someone from the firm went to the neighboring Miller Street dump and took this sequence of photos to document the wider panorama of the site (above, click for a larger view). Capitol Hill rises to the left on the horizon and the UW campus skyline sits just to the right of center. In the left foreground, you can see the garbage dump literally growing before your eyes:

Image: Seattle Municipal Archives #30545

Two trucks are unloading debris over the edge of the dump. A fire burns to the right. This process of dumping, lasting from the early 1900’s until 1936, created the landmass for what eventually became the WSDOT Peninsula. Because garbage and gardens generally don’t mix well, the Olmsted Brothers recommended the dump be closed — and the city then agreed.

Now for the freeway. The following two images show this same area before and after construction of 520; in 1961 and 1965 respectively:

Images: Pacific Aerial Survey via UW Map Collection

The before-image shows the scablands of the old Miller Street dump wedged between the Montlake neighborhood on the left, and Foster Island on the right. The paths of freeway ramps are just beginning to appear through the wetlands. The after-image shows the full extent of 520, completed in 1963. More interestingly, it shows the lagoons carved around the landmass of the dump – today’s WSDOT Peninsula – bounded by the Arboretum ramps.

That eagles and ospreys and turtles, herons, beavers and crows have returned to this area is testament to two things: time and a strong will to not mess things up.

This article was originally published June 7, 2012

One thought on “RERUNS: 520@50: Garbage, time and habitat

  1. Those are quite interesting photos. It’s hard to imagine a dump so close to houses. I’m sure the adjacent neighbors were happy to see the dump closed down in 1936!

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