Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Bridge At Long Last!

The colors of the Pacific Northwest landscape have always been deep, rich, jewel colors of blues and greens - except of course when blurred grey by rain and fog. Photographs of the 40's and 50's are more often than not, black and white, as such, coloring (or not-coloring) memories as drab, colorless. For example, the photos of workers marching up the ferry dock towards the shipyard and more images of them laboring, leave out the brilliance of the sun, the sparkling waters, the majestic mountains. So it is easy to attach the more somber tone of the times forgetting the magnificence of the landscape. It is that beauty that makes long, gloomy winters tolerable. Everything is always damp - at least it seemed that way.

When I recall walking across the just-opened Agate Pass Bridge in October 1950, clutching my grandfather's hand, the sun is shining, the Pass gleams luminous dark green far below, breezes frothing the choppy surface. There are sounds of people laughing and shouting greetings. My taciturn Grampa tips his hat and nods to many, many people. I didn't know he knew so many men and women or that they too, knew him. He had been one of several voices loud in their scorn of the building of the bridge. The swiftness and depth of the treacherous passage would make the driving of pilings impossible. The bridge was going to lead to nowhere. No one would use it. They were wrong of course as proven by the successful construction and the removal of the toll shack in one year instead of the estimated four years.

However, the connection began the demise of isolation that had sheltered Islanders forever. It was the end of Bainbridge's "Way of Life." It took two or three decades but the bridge, the cross-Island Highway 305, and the "super ferries" all colluded, making the Island just another bedroom community of Seattle. The population surged, becoming more interested in visibility than invisibility. One thing remains unchanged, the lack of roadside advertising and retail stops along the Highway. For that, the ladies of the Bainbridge Island Garden Club, 1949-50, are to be thanked as they managed to push through regulation prohibiting billboards, restaurants, and the like, assuring the continuity of the idyllic scene from one end of the Island to the other.

Poor old Captain Peabody, reviled as pompous and self-serving in the local newspaper, had to step down from his perch as keeper of the keys to the Island. He lost his bid to build the bridge but won building the new ferry terminal and dock. He faded into obscurity. The State of Washington replaced him as subject of disdain in the newspaper's scornful cartoons and rantings as incompetent ferry boat operators. For Islanders, ferries are like the weather; targets of complaints - because common folk have little power to change the system.

As is the nature of human beings, Island and mainland citizens each were suspicious of one another as they met for possibly the first time when the umbilical cord of the bridge allowed. The little town of Poulsbo, home to predominately Norwegian families, and equally small Bainbridge Island soon established a lively rivalry. High school sporting events were favorite competitive events. Retailers like Winslow's Allen's and Poulsbo's Snelson's department stores vied for the same shoppers. (An interesting note I think, is that both establishments had uneven, squeaky wood plank floors, were kind of dark, and carried pretty much the same inventory - walking into one was like walking into the other.) Even social centers like Poulsbo's Son's of Norway Lodge and the Island's American Legion Club competed for attendees. The Lynwood Theatre got busier. Poulsbo did not have a movie theatre so some enterprising entrepreneur built a drive-in about half way between the two locations. That was in 1955 when watching movies while sitting in a car was very popular entertainment. So were drive-in restaurants. There was the Cat 'n' Fiddle on the Island and Greg's in Poulsbo. Teenagers were ecstatic and soon made all three, hangouts; which were so much better than the previous "hot spots", the gravel pit and/or the garbage dump. Teens are a collective pack and have to have their own gathering headquarters.

Most Islanders were happy to have choices the bridge made possible; including opting to "drive around" to Seattle instead of having to rely on ferry service. Although the drive in those years was more arduous than now due to the less than ideal highway conditions. Still, it was a choice. Getting "off the Rock" seemed easier. Real estate then was affordable for working folk and the population remained mainly blue collar for a long time. Not like now when few options are available for anyone but those with higher incomes. We could never have imagined our little backwater would one day be a chic destination.

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