Show portrays history of all kinds of Tacoma bridges

Whether they span water or leafy voids bridges have been a major feature of Tacoma’s landscape for almost as long as its existence.

They’re also the subject of the Tacoma Historical Society’s latest exhibition, “Spanning Tacoma,” now on display inside its storefront operation on Pacific Avenue.

“Our bridges are unique because of our topography, but they make vital connections between communities,” society member Deb Freedman said.

The bridges covered in the show range from current to long gone and come in a variety of styles: pedestrian, car, railroad and even bicycle. At one point Tacoma had the world’s longest biking bridge in the world.

Tacoma’s most famous bridge, the one that has given the city notoriety for the past 75 years, lasted less than year.

Galloping Gertie, the first bridge to cross the Tacoma Narrows, opened to traffic July 1, 1940. It collapsed in a windstorm just four months later, killing a dog in a car stranded on the bridge.

Using photos, artifacts, videos and maps the exhibit tells the stories of why and where Tacoma spanned its waterways and gulches. And how bridge technology has changed over the decades.

One photo shows one era giving way to another as a group of natives in canoes watch trains travel over a Tacoma tideflats trestle.

Tacoma’s bridges don’t line up in a neat row as Portland’s do over the Willamette River. Instead they cross shipping channels, gulches, rivers and the Narrows.

A long gone rustic bridge in Point Defiance Park was made of 3,500 logs.

As famous as Tacoma is for its epic bridge collapse, society president Bill Baarsma said the city can be proud of its saving of the Murray Morgan Bridge that connects 11th street to the Port of Tacoma.

The 100-year-old bridge (the second built there) was slated for demolition.

“The city was told by the Washington State Department of Transportation that it had to come down,” Baarsma said. But an independent inspector said with remediation the bridge could last another 100 years.

To highlight the show, Tacoma Lego artist Dan Parker has recreated several Tacoma bridges, including the Murray Morgan, in Legos.


Who: Tacoma Historical Society.

Where: 919 Pacific Ave, Tacoma.

Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, through Nov. 28.

Information: tacomahistory.org, 253-472-3738.

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