Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Henry Hudson Bridge turns 75 years old

Here's a story from this week's Riverdale Review.

By Brendan McHugh 

The Henry Hudson Bridge has hit the diamond anniversary. 

The Henry Hudson Bridge turned 75 years old on Dec. 12. All photos courtesy of the MTA.

On Monday, Dec. 12, 1936, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and master-builder Robert Moses cut the ribbon on the Henry Hudson Bridge.

Exactly 75 years later, the New York Public Library’s Riverdale branch has begun showing a month-long photo exhibit, highlighting the construction and life of the bridge. 

The exhibit includes more than a dozen photographs from the MTA Bridges and Tunnels Depression-era collection and will include a section for schoolchildren, focusing on different types of bridges and the building of the Henry Hudson, and another geared to the community before the bridge was built.

Jump below for the full story and some fascinating photos from the 1930s when the bridge was being constructed.

Just...a little...bit...further...
The Henry Hudson, at 2,208 feet, was the world’s longest plate-girder, fixed arch bridge when it opened in 1936. The arch itself is 851 feet.

“Interestingly enough, when the final cost of the construction of the Henry Hudson Brige, including the new upper level, was tallied, it did not come to the originally projected $15 million, nor did it come to the revised $10 million. The final cost was an astoundingly low $4,949,000. That sum was more than two-thirds less than the original estimate,” said Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan. 

Ultan opened the exhibit with a speech about the bridge; from its original plans to the effect it has had on the surrounding neighborhoods. 

“Incredible,” was what Riverdale resident Michelle Metcovsky said about Ultan’s lecture, noting how much she learned from Ultan. “He was very clear, very fascinating.” 

The bridge was first proposed in 1904, after Bronxites had complained that the nearby Broadway bridge crossing the Harlem River ship canal was too congested, Ultan told a group of about two dozen at the Riverdale library. City officials originally hoped to have the bridge built by 1909—the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage—but local outcry from Spuyten Duyvil and northern Manhattan residents nixed the plan when they claimed it would ruin the quiet bucolic nature of their neighborhoods. 

But when Moses decided to build the bridge in 1914, things began moving forward again. 

Riverdalians began complaining more and more about the difficulties in making it down the infamous hill that divides Riverdale and Kingsbridge to get to Manhattan. Congestion on Broadway was getting worse. Soon, the idea of a parkway was beginning to grow on local residents. 

To avoid the rage of the Spuyten Duyvil residents, however, Moses, in modern day Bloomberg fashion, kept the route of the parkway secret for as long as possible. 

The bridge took only 18 months to build—an extremely quick timeline compared to many of today’s projects, one member of the audience pointed out. 

There was only one level of roadway at the beginning, in 1936. Banks did not believe two levels would be needed and therefore refused to loan Moses the extra money. However, by the end of the year, 17,000 cars were crossing the bridge each day, and soon after the second level was built by 1938. With the toll only ten cents, the bridge collected $620,500 that first year. 
Not quite 'modern Riverdale' in this photo
of the parkway leading away from the bridge.

“For affluent Riverdale motorists, the initial effect of the Henry Hudson Bridge was to provide a convenient and swift way to get to the west side of Manhattan and to Midtown,” Ultan said. 

He also said the bridge did not have the initial effect on real estate development that many residents feared. It took until the 1960s for developers to take risks on Riverdale to build luxury apartment housing. 

“It has now been 75 years since the Henry Hudson Bridge opened to the public,” Ultan said. “Without it, Riverdale would never have become the vital part of the Bronx and New York City that it is today. Thus, in many ways, the Henry Hudson Bridge created modern Riverdale."

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