Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Bridges of Multnomah County

Back to working on Portland bridges again. There are lots of bridges there, across the Willamette, in downtown and after having drafted a context statement, a Multiple Property Submittal that covers ten of them, I am now nibbling away at the formal nomination of four spans owned by Multnomah County; the Hawthorne, Broadway, Burnside and Morrison.

Writing about these spans it is a struggle to avoid the use of superlatives. It’s an amazing collection Portland has put together, including works by some of America’s most renowned bridge engineers such as Gustav Lindenthal, Ralph Modjeski, David Steinman, Waddell and Harrington and Joseph Strauss. In Portland, between the upstream Sellwood and the downstream Fremont bridges one can find the oldest vertical lift span bridge in the United States (the Hawthorne), the ONLY double-vertical lift span in the world (the Steel Bridge), and the largest Rall Bascule bridge ever built (the Broadway). The St. Johns Bridge was the longest suspension span in the world when it was completed and, until very recently, the Fremont Bridge was the longest orthotropic tied-arch span in the world too. Each one of these bridges, aside from the incredible functional value that they bring to Portland, is in its own way something of a masterpiece, an amazing piece of engineering whether it’s the longest, oldest, first, or whatever other superlative that can be layered atop the simple fact that this is a great set of bridges. The fact that you can stand on one and, in most cases, see almost all the others, is just stunning.

We preservationists can be fairly cutting when the mood strikes. Efforts to save historic structures by relocating them in packs to safer, less pressured ground, are almost universally dismissed as “preservation round-ups.” In Portland, over the period of 1910 to 1973, the City, the County and the State of Oregon have effectively created what amounts to a “Bridge Round-Up.” And it’s a pretty spectacular assemblage.

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