When construction on the 11th Street Bridge was completed in 1913, 10,000 residents flocked to the site to celebrate its opening. The fanfare was not only proportional to the bridge’s steep $600,000 price tag, but also comparable to its importance in Tacoma. As a port town with numerous waterways crisscrossing its land, Tacoma requires bridges to accommodate land traffic. Thanks to the 11th Street Bridge, cars could now easily travel across Commencement Bay and reach the tideflats in a matter of minutes. It also served as a significant transportation link between downtown Tacoma and the surrounding industrial areas.
In spite of the 11th Street Bridge’s usefulness during the twentieth century, it was eclipsed by the East 21st Street Bridge when it was built in 1997. With the latter bypassing the former, the older bridge was no longer a part of many Tacoma residents’ commute. Its reduced utility combined with signs of extensive wear led the Washington State Department of Transportation to seriously consider demolition. With officials eyeing a teardown, the people of Tacoma once again rallied around the bridge.
This time, residents banded together to protect the historic landmark that their ancestors helped to welcome ninety years prior. The grassroots campaign Save Our Bridge voiced concerns about destroying the 11th Street Bridge, citing that such an action would unnecessarily erase a portion of Tacoma history. It not only holds architectural importance as the first lift bridge to have a notable grade, but it also has a rich past that the people of Tacoma did not want overlooked.
Luckily, the Tacoma City Council did not fail to notice. In 2003, the 11th Street Bridge was saved by a 9-0 vote to rehabilitate—not demolish—the landmark. After further coaxing by the public, council members made good on their plans to restore the bridge to working condition and completed the project in 2013. In the end, the organized effort to preserve the bridge won out despite the wave of opposition from government officials. With the help of today’s Tacomans, the historic bridge has been saved from the brink of destruction and will live to see another day.