Washington renames Tacoma's Eleventh Street Bridge as Murray Morgan Bridge on May 21, 1997.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 5/16/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5458

On May 21, 1997, the Washington State Transportation Commission renames Tacoma's Eleventh Street Bridge (or City Waterway Bridge) the Murray Morgan Bridge. The 1,748-foot steel truss vertical lift-span bridge crosses the Thea Foss Waterway. It opened in 1913, and was rebuilt in 1957. Murray Morgan (1916-2000), the preeminent historian of the Puget Sound region, wrote much of his renowned work Skid Road while serving as a bridge tender on the Eleventh Street Bridge.

The name change was proposed by a Memorial introduced in the Washington State Legislature (House Joint Memorial 4024, Senate Joint Memorial 8015) on April 16, 1997. Representative Fisher and Senator Wojahn urged support for the name change before a Transportation Commission meeting held May 15-16, 1997.

The House Memorial notes that Murray Morgan was born in Tacoma on February 2, 1916, during a snowstorm. It reads in part:

"WHEREAS, Murray Morgan's penchant for meandering around the Puget Sound region, the Northwest, and the world on a shoestring and on the drop of a hat, and often with his wife of fifty plus years Rosa, has given rise to his historical tomes on Tacoma, Seattle, the Olympic Peninsula, the Columbia River, Grand Coulee Dam, the St. Paul and Tacoma Lumber Company, the Alaska gold rush, the 1962 World's Fair, and his most favorite topic, the Aleutian Islands; and

WHEREAS, by conveying his many interests and adventure in both written and verbal mediums, Murray Morgan has brought the world to Tacoma, and Tacoma to the world; and

"WHEREAS, Murray Morgan in the early 1950's while serving as a bridge tender on the Eleventh Street Bridge on State Route 509 through Tacoma, Washington, wrote much of his famed Skid Road;

"NOW, THEREFORE, Your Memorialists respectfully pray that the Washington State Transportation commission commence proceedings to rename the Eleventh Street Bridge on Route No. 509 "The Murray Morgan Bridge," and that a ceremony to name the bridge take place as soon as is practicable..." (House Joint Memorial 4024).

In 2003, controversy swirled around the old bridge, which connects downtown Tacoma to the Port of Tacoma tideflat area. It was considered rickety and unsafe. However, the bridge passed inspection in August, and was scheduled to remain open until the end of the year, if not longer. In October 2007 the bridge was closed to traffic (except bicycles and pedestrians), due to its further deterioration and safety concerns.

Advocates for the historic bridge argue that it is a landmark. They admire the beauty of the old steel trusses and concrete piers. Some argue that the bridge should be retained as a pedestrian walkway and as a bicycle route.

The bridge has also attracted attention in another way: A pair of Peregrine falcons have chosen one of its towers as a roost. Four nestlings hatched on May 7, 2003.


Joseph Turner "Historic Name for a Bridge," The News Tribune (Tacoma), May 15, 1997 (http://www.tribnet.com); "The Murray Morgan Bridge," Ibid., May 22, 1997, p. A-8; Peter Callaghan, "It's Old, Ugly, Rickety -- and Absolutely Worth Saving," Ibid., May 8, 2003; House Joint Memorial 4024, 55th Legislature, State of Washington (http://www.leg.wa.gov/ pub/billinfo/1997-98/house/4000-4024); Washington State Department of Transportation, 2002 Bridge List, Document M23-09, WSDOT Website (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/FASC/EngineeringPublications/ Manuals/BridgeList2002.pdf); "Tacoma's Downtown Peregrine Falcons" Website (www.tacomafalcons.org); Sandie Turner (WSDOT) to Priscilla Long (www.historylink.org) e-mail, May 19, 2003; "Tacoma's Murray Morgan Bridge Remains Open Following Bridge Inspection," August 26, 2003, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) News Website accessed October 2, 2003 (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/news/2003/aug/ tacoma_murraymorganbridge_staysopen.htm; "Safety Concerns Close Murray Morgan Bridge," WSDOT News Release, October 23, 2007, WSDOT website accessed May 15, 2008 (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/News/2007/10/23_MurrayMorganBridge.htm).
Note: This essay was updated on May 15, 2008.

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