Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mystery History -- Solved

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Actually, two.

Mike was the first to log in a guess with "Looks like the Colorado St Bridge. People crossing the bridge by old car. Others crossing by foot, or perhaps preparing to take a leap of faith. 1913, or at least back in the last century."

Minutes later, Liz guessed "it's the opening day celebration of the Colorado street bridge."

The photo above ran in the Los Angeles Examiner in 1913.

It doesn't specify that the photo was taken on opening day, but since the bridge was dedicated Dec. 13, 1913, and there were few days remaining in that calendar year, I figure that for the purposes of Mystery History and Mike and Liz, it's close enough. (Our library researchers are twitching as they read this!)

At that time the Colorado Street Bridge was the longest and highest concrete arch bridge in the world.

Here's the bridge in 1920 (note the tiny Parker Mayberry Bridge that runs below it).

The mighty structure was preceded by the Scoville Bridge, built in 1887.

Here's the Scoville Bridge next to the Colorado Street Bridge (under construction):

J.W. Wood was an eyewitness to the history of the bridge, and you'll find his carefully detailed information on page 389 of his book "Pasadena, California: Historical and Personal":

Perhaps the most notable achievement, outside the Polytechnic High School group, for which the Board of Trade labored was the Colorado Street Bridge. It has not only contributed much to the popularity of the city, making it a link in the splendid automobile driveway that lures thousands of pleasure seekers along the great valley boulevard, but is in itself a thing of beauty. Constructed of reinforced concrete in a substantial way, it has not lost beauty of lines and curves in its substantiality. It is said to be one of the great concrete bridges of the United States, being 1,468 feet in length and 160 feet above the Arroyo bottom at its highest span. The cost was $200,000, with something added for the land approaches. As this bridge was to be part of the county boulevard system, the supervisors appropriated $100,000 toward the cost of construction.*

A propaganda for bonds to pay for this project was undertaken by the Board of Trade. Harry Geohegan was president of the board and A. Bertonneau secretary. I must give these men the credit of organizing an effective campaign. President Geohegan appointed a committee of twenty-five members of the board to determine whether this bridge should be built on a level with Colorado Street or at a lower level. Some objections had to be met, for certain residents near by believed their property would be damaged by the nearness of the bridge. These urged the "low" structure, but the committee decided upon the "high," and determined, with the assistance of the engineer's office and architect, the place of beginning, its course and landing spot. Its completion vindicated their judgment. W.F. Knight was chairman of the campaign committee, and to his insistence and determination many opposing opinions were overcome and to his diplomacy belongs much much credit for placating the strenuous ones. It required a hard campaign to induce the voter to accept the proposition, but it was accomplished by a vote of 5,270 for and 813 against. Upon the adjustment of a case where condemnation proceedings were found necessary the Colorado Street approach to this bridge will be widened to double its present width, and this approach will then be beautified and parked and made much more attractive than it is now. At this same election the purchase of Monk Hill and Carmelita for park purposes were beaten.

* Suggestive plans had been voluntarily made by the engineering firm of Williams & Nishkian and submitted by them for approval. Mayor Thum, however, appointed Fred E. Wilcox as his architectural adviser and Waddell and Harrington was employed to make others. These differed little from the Williams & Nishkian plans, however, but were accepted by the Mayor, and everything arranged for a vote upon the project.

Engineer John Alexander Waddell and contractor John Drake Mercereau collaborated on the phenomenal feat.

The bridge was constructed between July 1912 and December 1913 -- a quarter century before the Golden Gate Bridge. Up to 100 workers at a time were paid $2 to $4.50 a day to do the construction work. It wasn't without personal cost, though: Four men lost their lives after falsework on which they were standing collapsed.

(There's a popular ghost story -- total urban legend -- that goes like this: A worker on the Colorado Street Bridge fell head-first into wet concrete that had been poured into one of the bridge pilings. The other workers, realizing they'd never reach him in time to save him, left his body in the quick-drying cement. On very dark nights, his howling soul can be heard pleading to be released from the bridge's confines.)

I've always liked this 1940 postcard:

The aerial shot on this undated postcard shows the dramatic curvature of the Colorado Street Bridge (the one to the south):

The Colorado Street Bridge was named a historical civil engineering landmark in 1975 by the American Society of Civil Engineers, a cultural heritage landmark by the Pasadena City Council in 1979 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

The bridge has had almost as many lives as that proverbial cat! It was set to be demolished in 1935 to make way for a freeway that never happened (at that time, anyway). Then in 1951, when the Foothill (210) Freeway became a real possibility, Caltrans called for the bridge to be demolished, but the public outcry was so loud that Caltrans finally backed off and built their own bridge right next to the historic structure.

The Colorado Street bridge was closed in 1989 due to safety hazards, two years after the Whittier Narrows earthquake.

With the dedicated leadership of Pasadena Heritage, officials in the Pasadena Public Works Department and citizens in the community, funds were raised and spirits were lifted as plans began to take shape for total rehabilitation of the bridge. It was stripped down to its 11 arches, the entire superstructure was rebuilt and the underground supports were strengthened. It reopened in 1994 with great fanfare.

For many years Pasadena Heritage has held an annual summer celebration on the Colorado Street Bridge. This year a smaller yet no less important celebration was held. I'm told the major event will return next summer.

St. Paul, Minnesota, also has a Colorado Street Bridge listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

Many thanks to Pasadena Public Library.


Cafe Pasadena said...

Thanks, Ann! I finally woke up her early enuf to be the 1st answerer's. Usually, I'm too late as someone already has put in their answer before me.

(Liz de PA must've copied the year 1913 from my comment!) But, I'm willing to share my fabulous prize with her: a ride on a Rose Float. I hear the President's float may have an opening this year.

Thanks again for being a great Pasadena's Historical Officer!

kevin at Time River Productions said...

The story of the worker's death inside the bridge and his subsequent occupation of the bridge as a ghost is very similar to a legend surrounding a bridge in Bosnia, that ironically also has 11 arches. It was subject of the 1945 book that won the 1961 Nobel Prize in Literature "The Bridge on The Drina" by Ivo Andric. The book is incredible as it tells the story of the bridge through centuries of intrigue, loves and warfare. Fortunately our Colorado Street Bridge hasn't been damaged three times in warfare, but it would still be interesting to tell the story of Pasadena's history as seen by the bridge.
Below are two links to The Bridge on the Drina for anyone interested.ša_Sokolović_Bridge

Petrea said...

A thorough and delightful post once again, Ann. I'm bookmarking this one for future reference. It's fantastic.

Palm Axis said...


paul (the talker guy) said...

Those Board of Trade guys? They changed their name in 1922 to the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and Civic Association. Still going strong...

I was going to guess that it was the very first Doo Dah Parade, but they turned left instead of right at Orange Grove and Colorado. I could have sworn that kid in short pants was Peter Apanel in his youth.


Jean Spitzer said...

Congratulations to your two winners. And thanks for the history.

Michael Coppess said...

Great stuff!! Thank you.