How Ivan Helped Build Interstate 5

Ivan working the heavy equipment on Interstate 5 in Tacoma

The year was 1964. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 29, 1956, gave birth to the construction of the new Interstate 5. The Superhighway would stretch 277 miles across the state of Washington closely following ancient trails once used by the indigenous Native Americans & later trappers from the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Northwest Construction Company

The State issued the contract to the Northwest Construction Company founded & operated at the time by Paul Fiorito. The company moved several million yards of earth & paved the new Interstate 5 from Olympia to Everett. A tribute to the ingenuity & innovation of America in the 20th century. During construction of the Interstate close to the present-day Tacoma Dome, Mr. Fiorito invited his Brother-in-law Earl Irwin to visit the site. Ever the promoter, Mr. Irwin made the most of any opportunity, he therefore extended the invitation to Larry Johnston & his new little brother Ivan. A recently discovered B&I document highlights securing permission from then-President Johnson for Ivan to operate the paving machine that built I-5.

Ivan & His Crew Paving the Interstate


“Just another adventure with Ivan. This photo was taken in very close proximity to the current location of the Tacoma Dome. As always, Ivan was a bit standoffish at first but per the norm when something caught his interest he was off for another adventure.” — Larry Johnston


Jerry Fiorito, the son of Paul Fiorito would often visit his father at one of his many construction sites. However, this particular day offered a far more unique experience, his first meeting with Ivan the Gorilla®!


“Wild experience for me! Ivan threw himself into my arms with no warning at what to expect! Amazing the strength of such a small being! The Paving crew loved this experience & it stirred many conversations for several days.” — Jerry Fiorito


Marylou Borgert had also attended this event with her father Earl Irwin & fondly recollects the moment with Ivan the Gorilla building Interstate 5!


“At first Jerry looked a little scared & as usual Ivan wanted to get going. He squirmed & jumped from here to there, pausing a little at the machinery before finally falling in love with all the gadgets.” — Marylou Borgert

Share your memories of Ivan


  1. Melina wold on August 1, 2022 at 2:05 am

    I am very sad to learn of Ivan’s passing. I lived im the Seattle and Tacoma area since 1975 until 2002. I moved to a very small town in the NW corner of Montana about 30 miles from Canadian boarder. When I lived in Tacoma I visited Ivan often and brought my Littles to see him and ride the merry go round then back to see Ivan before we departed the store. When I moved to Montana, I moved to an off grid cabin in the woods. I have thought about Ivan so often and decided to see if I could find out any news on him. We do not get local news here, comes from Spokane. Being off grid we didn’t get any news. So finding this was a sadness for me but I am glad he was able to see others
    Ike him. Did he ever leave offspring, have a mate?

    • Robert Nissenbaum on August 1, 2022 at 2:31 am

      Thank you, Melina. He never did have a mate or offspring.

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