Ballard Bridge – Seattle, Washington - Atlas Obscura

Ballard Bridge

Granting the right of way to ships over surface traffic since 1917. 


The last of a series of four bridges one must pass before leaving Lake Washington and entering the Puget Sound, this movable bridge has welcomed Ballard visitors for nearly a century.

The Ballard Bridge is 2854 feet long, spanning the Lake Washington ship canal and linking Elliot Bay to Lake Washington before connecting Ballard with neighboring Interbay, Magnolia and Queen Anne.  It was built in 1917 to allow faster passage for large ships wishing to utilize the fresh-water harbor.  Ballard’s history in maritime commerce runs deep, and to this day car traffic commuting over the bridge must yield for the passing of any ship taller than 44 feet.

This type of bridge is referred to as a bascule bridge, opening drawbridge style to allow frequent ship passage underneath.  Ships approaching must blow a whistle to signal their arrival to the bridge conductor, who in turn begins the process of halting oncoming traffic and opening the bridge.  On average the whole process only takes roughly four minutes.

The bridge is well-loved as the iconic entryway to the Ballard neighborhood, and in 2003 local artists Tom Askman and Lea Anne Lake were commissioned to decorate the north side of the bridge with a sculptural installation aptly titled Ballard Gateway.  The eight aluminum sculptures they installed pay tribute to the neighborhood’s ethnic diversity and industrial history, utilizing Scandinavian colors, Native American designs and maritime imagery in an ode to Ballard’s rich cultural past. 

That trek from historic Ballard might have caused you to work up an appetite. Head to the northwest corner of the ominous Ballard Blocks to find Mike’s Chili Parlor, home of pretty much just chili, but arguably the best chili in the city. Or you can skirt the Ballard Blocks to the south and look for a tiny house surrounded by the edifice—it’s Edith Macefield’s house, and you can learn its amazing story. Keep on down Shilshole if you want to check out the Old Ballard Liquor Co.

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