Iconic Architecture: 130 Years Of the Brooklyn Bridge (May 24,1883 – May 24, 2013)

The Brooklyn Bridge:  A Neo-Gothic Cable Suspension Bridge Icon
The Brooklyn Bridge: A Neo-Gothic Cable Suspension Bridge Icon

The iconic Brooklyn Bridge. A magnificent structure of architecture that celebrates 130 years today, May 24th 2013. On opening day, several thousand pedestrians are said to have attended the opening ceremony as fireworks filled the skies and band music filled the air. Ships present in the East Bay provided an additional fanfare and pomp with gunfire. Construction that began on January 3rd, 1870 saw completion upon its grand opening for use on May 24, 1883. A worthy investment of time in construction, for certain. The Brooklyn Bridge connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River. Of Interest, the bridge was originally referred to as the “East River Bridge” before it was dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge. Who knew? With a main span of 1,595.5 feet, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world from its opening until 1903. Considered the first steel-wire suspension bridge, the architectural grandness of the Brooklyn Bridge is considered Neo-Gothic. The cable arrangement is described as forming “a distinctive, web-like pattern”. The iconic pointed arches of the stone towers that rise above the passageways have become an esteemed representation of the bridge’s architecture. The towers, built of limestone, granite blocks and Rosendale cement, were quarried and shaped on Vinalhaven Island, Maine and delivered to New York by schooner boat. Imagine!

And of the architect? The Brooklyn Bridge was initially designed by German immigrant John Augustus Roebling. Roebling, who previously designed and constructed shorter suspension bridges, is said to have designed the Brooklyn Bridge with a truss and suspension system that was 6 times as strong as he thought it needed to be. Roebling was quoted as saying, “If anything happens to one of the systems, the bridge may sag, but it will not fall”. Masterful design that indeed has stood the test of time. Consider the achievement that this bridge must have represented during this time period! Unfortunately, on May 30th, 1883 (six days after the opening) a rumor that the bridge was going to collapse created a frenzy on the bridge in which a stampede brought the deaths of several pedestrians. It is stated that in an effort to squelch doubts about the bridge’s stability, P.T. Barnum publicized his famous circus and led a parade that included one of his most famous attractions: “Jumbo” the elephant and a parade of 21 elephants over the Brooklyn Bridge! Again, Who knew???? Strength of secure status in architecture!

The "East River Bridge" (Plan of one tower for the Brooklyn Bridge/1867)
The “East River Bridge” (Plan of one tower for the Brooklyn Bridge/1867)
Vintage Renderings:  The Brooklyn Bridge
Vintage Renderings: The Brooklyn Bridge
Postcards Of Historical Perspective:  The Brooklyn Bridge
Postcards Of Historical Perspective: The Brooklyn Bridge
Historical Architecture:   The "East River Bridge"  (The "Brooklyn Bridge")
Historical Architecture: The “East River Bridge” (The “Brooklyn Bridge”)

Of further historical interest, while conducting surveys for the bridge project, John Augustus Roebling suffered from an injury on site of the bridge project which would eventually result in his death (it is recorded that 27 workers would perish during the bridge construction). Roebling placed his 32 year old son, Washington Roebling, in charge of the project. Unfortunately, his son would also suffer from a different paralyzing injury that afflicted many of the workers, known as “caisson disease” (decompression sickness) shortly after construction began. His condition would leave him unable to physically supervise the construction firsthand. It was his wife, Emily Warren Roebling, who would assume the critical link between her husband and the engineers on site for the following 11 years. Under her husband’s guidance, Emily studied the mathematical concepts of catenary curves, strengths of materials, cable construction and bridge specifications. A remarkable woman creating history, for certain! Of course, no project or any grand undertaking is without problems arising. When iron probes underneath the caisson found the bedrock to be even deeper than expected, Roebling halted construction due to the increased risk of decompression sickness. Only when the aggregate overlying the bedrock 30 feet below was deemed to support the tower base did construction continue. Of further interest, after the cabling had been constructed, it was discovered that the wire in the cabling was inferior. Roebling determined that the inferior wire would leave the bridge four rather than six times as strong as necessary. The installation of 250 diagonal cables from the towers to the deck were added to “stiffen” the bridge. Although they were later determined to be unnecessary, they remained due to their distinction to the bridge. Once again, who knew? And upon completion? Washington Roebling was unable to attend the ceremony but is said to have held a privately celebrated banquet at his home. It was none other than Emily Warren Roebling who was the first to cross the bridge. The accomplishment achieved that still stands today. The Brooklyn Bridge has spanned not only the East River, but history itself and the masses that have traveled over it. A towering distinction in architecture…

"Towers Of Gothic Distinction:  The Brooklyn Bridge"
“Towers Of Gothic Distinction: The Brooklyn Bridge”
Spanning The East River:  The Connection Of Manhattan and Brooklyn
Spanning The East River: The Connection Of Manhattan and Brooklyn
City Scapes With Lights:  The Stunning Architecture Of TheBrooklyn Bridge
City Scapes With Lights: The Stunning Architecture Of TheBrooklyn Bridge
New York's Skyline:  Graced With The Embellishment Of The Brooklyn Bridge
New York’s Skyline: Graced With The Embellishment Of The Brooklyn Bridge

Since its opening, the Brooklyn Bridge has become an icon of New York City. The designation as a National Historic Landmark was bestowed in 1964 and the bridge was awarded a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972. A treasured landmark,for certain. Since the 1980’s the bridge has been floodlit at night to highlight its distinctive architectural features. It is with great appreciation of this bridge that I acknowledge its history in architecture. Of the bridge that once carried horse-drawn carriages and trolley traffic? History that carries onward beyond the street cars that once ran on the two center lanes and beyond the two inside traffic lanes that once carried elevated trains until their relocation to the protected center tracks in 1944. The streetcars halted service in 1950 at which time the bridge was restructured to carry six lanes of automobile transit. A bridge that could hold 21 elephants in the late 1800’s still stands in towering defiance to those that had doubted its strength. And of its beauty? Iconic distinction in stone and cables. Today, the 6 lanes for motor vehicles along with the separate walkway along the centerline for pedestrians and bicycles validates its importance in mass transit. It is said that more than 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 cyclists cross the Brooklyn Bridge each day. To appreciate its magnitude and historical impact on the boroughs of Brooklyn and Manhattan? A worthy reflection, indeed…

Kristin

Myself, With The Background Of The Distinctive Brooklyn Bridge.  Circa 2004.
Myself, With The Background Of The Distinctive Brooklyn Bridge. Circa 2004.

And of my personal appreciation of the Brooklyn Bridge? Having grown up on the North Shore of Long Island, New York, the bridge was a marvel to me over the course of my childhood, youth and adult years. Upon travels to the city that stretches NorthEast by the Atlantic Ocean, the bridge gained my attention. Wide eyes. Perhaps our past recollections are what provide us with inspiration and appreciation of what exists around us. Delving deeper into history, acknowledging significant structures, such as the Brooklyn Bridge, for the gift that they bestow? Paramount in appreciation. Acknowledgement. What we often take for granted? Take a moment to appreciate. Iconic architecture with a history. 130 years and beyond

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