From a muddy lane to muddled lanes of traffic

Werner Lenggenhager photographed this section of Melrose Place North in the mid-1950s, knowing that soon after, it would be transformed into a freeway.

TO COMPLETELY REPEAT the viewpoint of our featured “Then” photographer, Werner Lenggenhager, we’d need a hovering drone — or the guiding and guarding of a phalanx of Washington State Patrol troopers — to get to the narrow greenbelt of shrubbery between the freeway’s lower southbound lane and its higher northbound one.

Instead, Jean Sherrard took the closest prudent prospect: a position above Interstate 5 on the Denny Way overpass. From there, looking south, we see an electric cityscape of high-rises and cumulus clouds above the late-morning traffic. It is an eye-popping contrast.

Within a few seconds, an I-5 driver heading north under Denny Way would pass by Lenggenhager’s “alley-scape” from the mid-1950s, about a block and a half away. Then, the sensitive photographer was exploring what he knew was the doomed block-wide strip between Eastlake and Melrose, then condemned for cutting Seattle’s freeway.

Lenggenhager moved to Seattle from Austria in 1939 and was soon working at Boeing. He lived on nearby Olive Street, just up the hill. This is not the first time we have followed Lenggenhager to this alley. On July 28, 2001, “Now & Then” featured him looking north at it in the summer, when the mud had turned to dust.

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Lenggenhager retired from Boeing in 1966, giving him more time to explore Seattle and Washington with his camera. Some of the many thousands of prints that make up his oeuvre are kept in public collections, including those at the University of Washington Library, the Museum of History & Industry and the Seattle Public Library.

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