The Manhattan Bridge, the youngest of the four East River Bridges, will celebrate its 100th birthday October 4. The celebration, capped by a firework display by Grucci of NY that night, will include a parade of historic vehicles, walking and bike tours, and public discussions on the history and construction of the bridge.
While the youngest of the East River bridges, the Manhattan Bridge has long experienced problems of aging due to its design.Essentially “under built,” the 1,470 foot suspension bridge consists of four main cables draped over two, sleek piers. The designer, Leon Moisseiff, assumed that the inherent structure of suspension bridges made them stronger and decided as a result not to use stiffening trusses like those used, for example, on the Williamsburg Bridge (opened in 1903).
The problem was compounded because Moisseiff placed the subway and streetcar lines — the streetcar tracks were replaced with auto lanes in the 1940s — on the outer edges of the roadway. The heavy moving loads of the trains created a twisting strain on the lightly reinforced deck.
Combined with lax maintenance over the years, major reconstruction was required beginning in the 1980s and continuing until 2007, with the rehabilitation of the lower roadway.
Moisseiff, who became a pioneer in the construction of all steel bridges, utilized a similar design for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State. Four months after the bridge opened in 1940, a minor windstorm caused it to collapse. A video of the collapse, which is still used in engineering, architecture and physics courses today, shows that a twisting motion added to the stress of longitudinal waves along the span.
While the Manhattan Bridge has never been celebrated the way the Brooklyn Bridge (1883) to the south has, or captured in song as the Queensboro Bridge (1909) has, it does make a significant public art statement along the Manhattan entranceway. A stone archway styled after the Porte St. Denis in Paris was designed by Carrere and Hastings, the architectural firm that designed the New York Public Library.
The Brooklyn approach, which included two statues by Daniel Chester French — allegorical figures of Brooklyn and Manhattan — was dismantled in the 1960s to facilitate traffic. They are now on display in the Brooklyn Museum.
Among the events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Manhattan Bridge are:
7:15a.m. Bike tour, led by Michael Miscione, which will start on the steps of Borough Hall in Brooklyn and will join up with the Bridge parade at 9 a.m.
7 p.m., entrance to the park at Jackson & Cherry Streets: Manhattan Fireworks by The Gruccis of New York. East River Park Amphitheatre, north of Manhattan Bridge. The Manhattan School of Music Brass Quintet will perform.
6:30 p.m., NYU-Poly, 5 MetroTech Center, main floor: Lecture: “Miss Manhattan, Miss Brooklyn and their creator, Daniel Chester French” Brian Tolle, sculptor, and Karen Lemmey, Metropolitan Museum of Art Historian.
6:30 p.m., NYU-Poly, 5 MetroTech Center, Main Floor: “The Manhattan Bridge %u2013 History, Construction & Safety,” with Michael Miscione, Manhattan Borough Historian; Henry Perahia, deputy commissioner, NYC Department of Transportation & Sam Schwartz, PE.
2 p.m., Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierpont Street, $6 admission, free to members of the Brooklyn Historical Society: Lecture: “Engineering, Construction and History of the Manhattan Bridge” by Dave Frieder.
6 p.m., Transit Museum, Boerum Place & Schermerhorn Street, $5 admission: “Art Along the Way: Masstraniscope with Artist Bill Brand.” Talk and ride-by to view artwork in unused Myrtle Avenue Subway Station. Two-hour event.
6:30 p.m., NYU-Poly, 5 MetroTech Center, Main Floor: Panel Discussion on the Manhattan Bridge by Robert Olmsted, ASCE; Michael Miscione, Manhattan Borough Historian; Sam Schwartz, PE and Jim Rasenberger, author historian panelists, Sewell Chan, reporter for the New York Times moderator.
10 a.m., Canal & Bowery, southwest corner: Manhattan Walking Tour with Bernie Ente and David Frieder, two hours, in conjunction with Open House New York. This part of tour will end at York Street by the F train station. Tour will conclude at 1 p.m.
1:30 p.m., Boerum Place & Schermerhorn Street: Transit Museum Workshop for Children “Bridge City: Manhattan Bridge Turns 100.” Free admission for members, $3 children & $5 adults.