Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Centennial for an Overshadowed Landmark

It’s fair to say that the Manhattan Bridge has always stood in the shadow of a certain other East River span. When the Brooklyn Bridge was completed in 1883, connecting the two great cities of New York and Brooklyn, it was a celebration for the ages, attended by U.S. President Chester Arthur, and pretty much all of New York. At the time it was built, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world, longer than any other by half, and was called the eighth wonder of the world.

On the contrary, “the most impressive thing about the official opening” of the Manhattan Bridge, “was that it was Mayor [George] McClellan’s last formal act before handing over the keys of the city to the incoming administration,” according to a New York Times article published the day after the Manhattan Bridge’s comparatively humble beginning on December 31, 1909.

New Yorkers had become accustomed to the opening of great bridges between the boroughs, it was said at the time by former Brooklyn Bridge President William Berri. It was, after all, the fourth suspension bridge over the river, the Williamsburg and Queensboro bridges having already been completed.

So it’s not the oldest and it’s not the longest, and has even been plagued by a series of structural problems. But the New York City Bridge Centennial Commission is giving the Manhattan Bridge its moment in the sun, with a week-long centennial celebration next week, complete with a parade of historic vehicles, walking and bike tours, public discussions on the history and construction of the bridge and, yes, fireworks.

For more on the bridge and the upcoming centennial events, see the rest of my article in the Eagle. Also check out the Centennial Commission web site, http://www.nycbridges100.org/

The photo at top from the Library of Congress shows the Manhattan Bridge under construction about 9 months before it was completed. The photo below was taken by Dave Frieder from the top of the Manhattan Bridge in 1997.


1 comment:

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Just curious, but what were you doing at the top of the bridge? Were you allowed to climb it?