There’s a message scribed on the bottom of the Young Street Bridge that encapsulates its importance to some in Aberdeen.
“I Survived Being a Teen Because of Your Art,” the message states, in reference to the late-Kurt Cobain and the band Nirvana. The message also contains a drawn heart and the name “Maggie.”
The bad news for people like Maggie and the other people who have penned, marked and spray painted underneath the bridge, is the Young Street Bridge will come down in the next few years because it needs replacing.
The city’s anticipated replacement of the bridge has an estimated cost of $23.2 million. A few months ago, the city received $25 million in grant funding from the Washington state Joint Transportation Committee.
While the bridge’s replacement is needed — its “sufficiency rating” is at 14.71 on a scale of 0 to 100 — its anticipated replacement is not a popular one. Note, the bridge is still safe for transit.
Randy Beerbower, among others, wants input in how the bridge replacement happens. He loves the bridge and he knows the cultural significance of it. It’s one of the places Cobain, founding member of Nirvana who helped start the Grunge Rock genre, hung out as a teenager when he grew up in Aberdeen.
“As a historian from this area, I doubt anyone from Aberdeen or Grays Harbor for that matter has done more to get their hometown on the global map than Kurt Cobain,” Beerbower said. “You could show someone on any continent a photo of Kurt and they will know who he is. He almost seems more famous today than before he passed nearly 30 years ago. They will be talking about the impact Kurt and Nirvana had on the world of music when I am long gone. Locals need to accept that fact.”
Beerbower recently reached out to Ruth Clemens, Aberdeen’s city administrator, to let the city know what he thinks. He shared his letter with The Daily World. Part of his concern was from how the Kurt Cobain Memorial Park, which sits at the base of the bridge, might be affected. The park, dedicated April 5, 2011, includes a guitar statue covered with personal messages from fans, a sign bearing Cobain’s face on one side and a bit about him on the other side. There are also a few benches and a short trail that leads people underneath the bridge. There are countless messages and signatures from fans who adore Cobain and Nirvana with messages such as “Kurt Rocks Forever.” There is also a sign that reads “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah,” which is also the name of a live album Nirvana released in 1996 — two years after Cobain’s death.
“I am curious if it is possible, as a citizen of Aberdeen, to be involved with the redesign phase of the project as it impacts the park,” Beerbower wrote on Jan. 18. In the letter, he references Tori Kovach, who helped develop the park. “Tori and I have talked and we are assuming that the park may be completely displaced during the construction of the new bridge and we are hoping that we can somehow help the planning of what will replace the current park.”
According to Beerbower, Clemens responded to him on Jan. 19.
“Thank you for reaching out,” Clemens wrote, according to Beerbower. “We’ve been anticipating that this project will be of much interest to those who are Kurt Cobain fans and those who have dedicated a lot of time to the park. Right now, we are working with the state to get the funds allocated.”
The letter to which Beerbower referred, also touches on future engagement the city intends on making with the public about the bridge and the park.
“We will begin a city-wide newsletter in March that will go out with our utility bill,” Clemens wrote to Beerbower. “That will be one of the ways we communicate to those who may be interested.”
The Daily World reached out to Clemens for comment, but did not receive one.
While Beerbower’s letter refers to the redesign, others in town have voiced strong opinions about the bridge remaining, since it is a draw for fans from out of town. There are other signs of Cobain’s influence around town.
Part of Nirvana’s history hangs off the bottom of the city’s welcome sign off of U.S. Highway 12. The sign reads, “Come As You Are,” which is the title of the third track off of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” album. Cobain’s childhood home is at 1210 E. 1st St. Upon searching the address, “Cobain’s home,” shows up on Google Maps. The house is a two-minute walk from the bridge. The Washington Department of Transportation mileage sign on U.S. Highway 8 that used to sit about 26 miles from Aberdeen, 16 miles from Montesano and 6 miles to Elma — the “666” sign that Cobain and former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic made famous — awaits display within the city by Wil Russoul, a prominent music fan in town. And there’s even a coffee shop named Nirvana Coffee Company in downtown Aberdeen.
All of this history, and the love from fans make this not just any old bridge replacement. In the last few weeks, a couple people who want to keep the bridge have been vocal.
Lee Bacon, owner of a two-story building at South K and West Wishkah streets, spoke about the draw the bridge has for international fans.
“The bridge is talked about around the world,” Bacon said. “There’s a lot of pictures of it. There’s a lot of stories about it. We see a lot of traffic from the bridge, since the proximity to the house is so close. I think the common theme that we hear is people are coming to the town and wanting to see, hear, and experience the story, because it’s one of the first places they go.”
Michael Dickerson, who has helped commission every one of the historic murals in downtown Aberdeen, was frustrated by the news that the bridge would be torn down in the next few years. It wasn’t just that it would be torn down, but because of how many people come to see it. He even called the discussions about tearing it down and replacing it were “probably a very evil thing.”
He called replacing the bridge, instead of strengthening it “irresponsible.”
It sounds as though he’ll ardently defend the bridge — which influenced the song “Something in the Way,” — once the city starts engaging the public.
“I think it is a crusade that is well worth taking on,” Dickerson said. “This is not a bridge that should be torn down. It’s like tearing down a cathedral.”
Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org for future story ideas.