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Battery Street Tunnel
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Nobody wanted artifacts from Battery Street Tunnel control room

When KIRO Radio listeners were taken on a tour of the “secret hidden control room” of the old Battery Street Tunnel a few years ago, photos revealed an inadvertent time capsule of original, 1950s safety controls and other equipment.

This wasn’t some kind of ‘DIY’ history exhibit put together by WSDOT engineers. The vintage fire suppression and lighting controls – and the old plumbing, phone, and a battered desk – were still in working order, and still on the job nearly 65 years after the tunnel had first opened.

While leading the 2018 tour, longtime WSDOT staffer Rick Rodda, who has since retired, had expressed hope at the time that some elements of the control room might be preserved by a museum.

Earlier this week, WSDOT announced completion of work to fill the cavity of the old tunnel with demolition debris from the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

And what became of the contents of the old Battery Street Tunnel control room?

KIRO Radio has confirmed that no artifacts from the peculiar – and, admittedly, esoteric – collection of gear were preserved.

“Removing systems inside the tunnel occurred early in decommissioning work, which started after the SR 99 tunnel opened in February 2019,” WSDOT spokesperson Laura Newborn wrote in an email Thursday. “It’s not clear if everything in that control room was recycled, or if any items were disposed of in a different way.”

Attempts were made to find homes for artifacts liberated by construction of the new tunnel, and some items like viaduct signage were accepted by at least one local museum. But there were no takers for the control room items.

“Sadly, no one expressed any interest in that piece of history,” Newborn wrote. “I’m afraid photos are all we will have to remember it by.”

Above ground, the concrete-and-glass-brick structure that served as entrance to the control room and as the tunnel’s emergency exit, is still standing at the southwest corner of 4th Avenue and Battery Street. On Battery Street itself, steel grates that once helped ventilate the tunnel remain embedded in the pavement in several places.

Let’s hope that at least a few of those old cool control room gauges and dials found their way into the cluttered basement of some anonymous and history-minded – or at least sentimental – demolition worker.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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