This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.
Route 66 was commissioned during something of a golden age of American infrastructure design. Thanks to various building booms and organizations like the WPA, the highway is studded with functional architecture that is also incredibly beautiful. One shining example is the magnificent Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena.
Curving gracefully across the Arroyo Seco that divides Los Angeles from its inner-ring suburbs, the bridge was once the tallest concrete span on earth. Sadly, this may be what inspired the bridge’s more well-known moniker: Suicide Bridge. Over a hundred suicides have taken place there over the years—the vast majority of them during the Great Depression. With so many deaths to its name, the bridge also has a reputation for ghost sightings and other haunted tales.
I knew none of this on the day I crossed (and sketched) the Arroyo. To me, the bridge was just a stunning welcome to Los Angeles, the last major city on Route 66. I guess it’s a fitting way to cross over into the City of Angels.
Seventy-five years ago today, the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in a spectacular tangle of twisted cables and swaying concrete. You can actually watch “Galloping Gertie” meet her doom on film (complete with cheeseball movie reel narration, sped-up footage and sound effects), readily accessible thanks to the magic of the internet.
The only casualty was a dog. But the collapse was an incredibly high-profile event—and not just because at the time, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. You see, it had been designed by famous engineers, including lead designer Leon Moisseiff (co-designer of the Manhattan Bridge) and consulting engineer Joseph B. Strauss (chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge). These guys were leading scientists who applied cutting-edge theories in physics to their work—but even they had never encountered what would come to be known as “aeroelastic flutter.” The conditions were just right, and that was it. (Though I’m sure I’m not the first to add that people should listen when we say it gets windy here in November.)
Thanks to the interruption of World War II, it took a decade for the bridge to be redesigned and rebuilt. “Sturdy Gertie” opened in 1950, and westbound traffic still travels over that span today. Luckily for us (and knock on wood), Gertie’s plenty solid this time around. No galloping from this baby, please and thank you.
You wouldn’t normally think of the Pacific Northwest as covered bridge country, but we do have a few here. Southern Oregon is home to a real beauty, and the last covered bridge still standing along old Highway 99. Of course, the rainy Northwest weather and towering conifers gave it away, but otherwise, the place made me feel like I was standing in a Vermont mountain glen.
Today is the last day of CODEX, after which I’ll be hitting the road again for points south. This evening, though, I’m looking forward to a few hours of downtime in the city with friends. It’s easy to forget in a bustling place like San Francisco, but there are plenty of quiet pockets to sit and let the world around you slow down for a moment.
Cathedral Park is one of my favorite spots in Portland. It’s pretty far off the beaten path, so I don’t know how many non-locals make it out that way, but it’s well worth the effort to get there. The park is named for the effect created by the gothic arches under the span. The long row of arches acts like a kind of barrel vault, while the diffuse Northwest light filters in at an angle—which feels a whole lot like you’re standing in the nave of the airiest cathedral you can imagine. The whole effect is as inspiring (for me) as visiting Notre Dame in Paris or St. Patrick’s in New York—only with a distinctly Northwestern spin on the experience.
Well, I started the week with a West Coast icon—so it seemed only fitting to end with the grand dame of the East River. What I love most about the Brooklyn Bridge is how familiar it feels to me, how solid and timeless. I can’t imagine New York without it—and after more than 130 years, I’m pretty sure the city feels the same way.
To continue this week’s bridge theme, let’s head north and check out a couple of Canadian feats of engineering. These two bridges have very little in common with one another—except that they both kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies.
I think the main thing was the sheer distances spanned here, by two relatively skinny structures. In the case of the Confederation Bridge that connects Prince Edward Island to the mainland, the span is eight miles long. That’s comparable to some of the wider stretches of salt water in Washington state, but thanks to the water depth here, you won’t find bridges like that around my neck of the woods. So even though the crossing to PEI took just a few minutes, it felt like traversing a little ocean.
And as for the world’s longest covered bridge? Well, now that was freaky. And creaky. And saggy. And rattly. And…well…long. It took me almost as long to walk across the Hartland Bridge and back as it did to drive the Confederation Bridge—plenty of time to freak out a little bit. (My fear of heights didn’t help, either.)
But you already know I have a major thing for covered bridges. Heck, I’d already crossed the entire province of New Brunswick just to see this one thing. This was definitely not the moment to chicken out.
Last week’s posts all revolved around a central theme—I liked how that idea worked out, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I run with it for awhile. This week? I’ve got bridges on my mind. And what American bridge is more iconic than the fabulous Golden Gate?
I must have drawn this thing from every angle by now—from up on the deck, from the air above, in rain, shine or fog, facing north-south-east-west. Heck, I even made it the star of my San Francisco print (which was inspired by this very day, this very sketch!).
But when I ran through my sketchbooks for today’s post, I kept coming back to the ones drawn from spots perpendicular to the span. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about that profile that just gets me every time.
I have whole sketchbooks devoted solely to San Francisco—maybe I should just go ahead and start one that belongs to the Golden Gate alone. It sure knows how to steal a scene, doesn’t it?