Friday, March 7, 2014

The Bridge to Everywhere: The George Washington Bridge strangely political, unexpectedly naked, undeniably beautiful


PODCAST  The George Washington Bridge is best known for being surprisingly graceful, darting between Washington Heights and the Palisades, a vital connection in the interstate highway system.  It's also been part of more than a few political scandals. And we're not even counting the current scandal involving New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Figuring out a way to cross over the Hudson River (not using a boat or ferry) between New York City and New Jersey has been a challenge that engineers and builders have tried to solve for over two hundred years.  With the formation of the Port Authority in 1921, there was finally an administrative body with the ability to bring a Hudson River bridge to life.

At the core of this story is a professional disagreement (or betrayal, depending on how you see it) between Gustav Lindenthal, the dreamer of a monumental crossing linking New Jersey with Midtown Manhattan, and his protegee Othmar Ammann who envisioned a simpler crossing in a less populated part of town.

The final bridge was eventually built thanks to a few strategic political moves by New Jersey's Jazz Age governor George S. Silzer. But the original bridge design was quite ornamental, a bridge close in appearance (if twice the size) to the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge you see today is technically unfinished.

ALSO: The story of the little red lighthouse and the great big flag!

To get this week's episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #162 George Washington Bridge

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A view of the landscape around the George Washington Bridge, clearly illustrating the two different sets of conditions on both sides of the bridge.  The New York side abuts an existing neighborhood, while the New Jersey side retains a bit more of its natural beauty.  July 4, 1947 (Courtesy New York State Archives)


Gustav Lindenthal worked with Othmar Ammann on the construction of the Hell Gate Bridge, completed in 1917....

...but his ultimate dream of building a colossal Hudson River bridge, with a entrance point on the Manhattan side in Midtown, was never realized.  His vision of a dramatically large span was illustrated in the New York Tribune in 1921:


Othmar Ammann, whose bridge design eventually won out, due to its relative economy (compared to Gustav's design) and choice of location:


The cable crew of the George Washington Bridge. The daunting construction job was completed ahead of time. (Courtesy Flickr/dsearls whose father appears in this picture!)


Opening day on the bridge, 1931, with 5,000 people in the stands and thousands more gathered around the New York and New Jersey sides.  New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt was there, as with Lindenthal and Ammann.  Who was not there? The mayor of New York City Jimmy Walker, who was attending an NYU football game. (Flickr/wavz13)


Margaret Bourke-White captures a Canadian Colonial Airways aircraft flying up the Hudson, October 1939.


Inside the bridge: a selection of photos from the Library of Congress from atop the tower, inside the anchorages, way extremely overhead and incredibly close:







From a cigarette card, showing the New Jersey toll booths:

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge....(Flickr/CPWview)



Footage from the bridge's opening day featuring FDR in a top hat:



This is how a crossing would have looked in the late 1940s-early 1950s!




10 comments:

  1. Great podcast, except that I never got to hear the story of the little red lighthouse. I streamed it from your website and your show abruptly ended before the end. Happened a few times before, with the Fraunces tavern one, and the NYFD. Any way to fix that? I LOVE your work and it's always very frustrating when a glitch occurs.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mikaela BordonaroMarch 30, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    I found many facts interesting but there were a few that I really found cool. The first facts was that the plans to build across the Hudson River were very costly. They would also destroy people homes and cause chaos in the city around 57th St. The second fact was that the reason most bridges are built across the East River is because the East River is much narrower. A third fact is that the Port Authority was created to make the communications between the two states a little easier. The two states would fight a lot about the transportation between each other. A fourth fact is that there originally was a toll for pedestrians. It started at 10 cents the it dropped down to 5 cents and in 1940 the toll was removed. A final fact that I found very interesting is that there are 380,000 light bulbs installed in the bridge. The George Washington Bridge also took some inspiration from the Eiffel Tower. Some sources I found in this podcast was references to previous podcasts, books more specifically childrens books and the New York Times.

    I also had some questions that arose from this podcast. How much were they planning to spend on the original bridge across the Hudson River? Who came up with the names for the bridge and how did they narrow the names down? Why is the significance of George Washington greater than the other names that were proposed? Why was the current George Washington Bridge cheaper to build? Who created the Port Authority? Why did they decide to drop the pedestrian toll? Why do you have to pay going into New York and not going into New Jersey? Why was the lighthouse placed under the bridge?

    ReplyDelete
  3. 5 things that I learned from listening to this podcast was that the George Washington Bridge was the fourth largest suspension bridge in New York city and it hangs over the Hudson River connecting New York and New Jersey. It is the world's busiest bridge in terms of automotive traffic. The bridge has 14 levels of automotive traffic. Before it was named the George Washington Bridge, other ideas of names were the Columbus Bridge, the Cleveland bridge, the Rainbow bridge, and more. They finally settled on the George Washington bridge because the location of 2 revolutionary war forts were there, Fort Lee and Fort Washington. Back then, ferries were the only way to travel between NY and NJ. The most important people that had to do with the GWB, was Gustav Lindenthal, Othmar Ammann, and George S. Silzer. Lindenthal and Amman were both architects and engineers and George S. Silzer was the governor of New Jersey at the time that advocated for Ammann's idea. Ammann was actually the assistant to Lindenthal but left and came up with his own ideas for the bridge. His ideas were less developed but much cheaper and his idea was chosen. Ammann also made the Triboro Bridge, Throgsneck Bridge, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. He worked into his 80s with his son. A sad thing I learned is that the GWB is one of the popular places for people to commit suicide.
    Some sources that I heard in this podcast was many quotes and statements. One of them was a quote from Ammann that said, "G.L rebute me for my medity and shortsightedness looking far enough ahead. He stated that he was looking ahead for 1000 years." Another quote was from Lindenthal stating:" Mr. Ammann has been my trusted assistant and friend for 10 years, framed up in my office... Now it appears Ammann used his position in trust, the knowledge acquired in my service and the date in records in my office to compete with me in plans of a bridge over the Hudson and to discredit my work..." I heard some secondary sources about the bridge holding 20% of the total weight that it has the potential to. Also one source said that the residents added a collective of one billion dollars and the population boomed. According to the New York Times, several women fainted during the opening ceremony of the bridge. On the 10th birthday of the bridge, the NY Times published a celebratory spread stating that "The George Washington bridge keeps right on being a fresh miracle to people who use it everyday."
    A question that I have is why did Jimmy Walker, the mayor of New York city at the time, choose a NYU football game over the opening of the bridge?

    ReplyDelete
  4. 5 things that I learned from listening to this podcast was that the George Washington Bridge was the fourth largest suspension bridge in New York city and it hangs over the Hudson River connecting New York and New Jersey. It is the world's busiest bridge in terms of automotive traffic. The bridge has 14 levels of automotive traffic. Before it was named the George Washington Bridge, other ideas of names were the Columbus Bridge, the Cleveland bridge, the Rainbow bridge, and more. They finally settled on the George Washington bridge because the location of 2 revolutionary war forts were there, Fort Lee and Fort Washington. Back then, ferries were the only way to travel between NY and NJ. The most important people that had to do with the GWB, was Gustav Lindenthal, Othmar Ammann, and George S. Silzer. Lindenthal and Amman were both architects and engineers and George S. Silzer was the governor of New Jersey at the time that advocated for Ammann's idea. Ammann was actually the assistant to Lindenthal but left and came up with his own ideas for the bridge. His ideas were less developed but much cheaper and his idea was chosen. Ammann also made the Triboro Bridge, Throgsneck Bridge, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. He worked into his 80s with his son. A sad thing I learned is that the GWB is one of the popular places for people to commit suicide.
    Some sources that I heard in this podcast was many quotes and statements. One of them was a quote from Ammann that said, "G.L rebute me for my medity and shortsightedness looking far enough ahead. He stated that he was looking ahead for 1000 years." Another quote was from Lindenthal stating:" Mr. Ammann has been my trusted assistant and friend for 10 years, framed up in my office... Now it appears Ammann used his position in trust, the knowledge acquired in my service and the date in records in my office to compete with me in plans of a bridge over the Hudson and to discredit my work..." I heard some secondary sources about the bridge holding 20% of the total weight that it has the potential to. Also one source said that the residents added a collective of one billion dollars and the population boomed. According to the New York Times, several women fainted during the opening ceremony of the bridge. On the 10th birthday of the bridge, the NY Times published a celebratory spread stating that "The George Washington bridge keeps right on being a fresh miracle to people who use it everyday."
    A question that I have is why did Jimmy Walker, the mayor of New York city at the time, choose a NYU football game over the opening of the bridge?

    ReplyDelete
  5. While listening to this podcast, I learned quite a number of things that I haven’t ever heard of about the George Washington Bridge. First off, I didn’t know that it is the 4th largest suspension bridge currently in the United States, but in 1931 it was the longest bridge in the world. Now there are 3 bridges that are larger than the George Washington Bridge and they are the Michigan Mackinac Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. However, the George Washington Bridge is the busiest bridge in the world in terms of traffic. I also thought it was really cool how if you drive all the way to the end of the George Washington Bridge and make a left and turn on to Interstate 80, you can basically go directly to San Francisco. Another thing that I learned about the bridge was that it had several names before it was called George Washington Bridge. It used to be called the Columbus Bridge, the Cleveland Bridge, the Rainbow Bridge, the Pride of the Nation Bridge, and the Verrazano Bridge. It was finally called the George Washington Bridge because it was strategically placed and it was where 2 forts were located. Fort Washington was in New York and Fort Lee was in New Jersey. I didn’t know that one bridge could have that many names and I never knew that it was named because of the history of the region. Another thing that I didn't know was that politics had to do with deciding which person’s design to use. George Silzer which was the New jersey governor at the time decided to let Ahmann build the bridge because the location was good, it was to keep on good terms with Republicans and basically it was in a less populated area and jobs would increase and also not as many people would have to leave their homes. in July 1925, Ahmann joined the Port Authority to as a bridge engineer and Silzer became the chairman. One other fact that I learned was that on October 24th on the opening of the George Washington Bridge, Ahmann looked up at the bridge and thought that it wasn’t complete because the completely forgot to put in Cass Gilbert’s part the in bridge that the were originally going to put in. Finally, the last thing that I learned was that in 2012, there were 43 attempts of suicide on the bridge and only 12 or 14 actually died, but the death of Tyler Clementi was made public because it was caused by cyberbullying.
    First of all, the most credible source that they used was the New York Times to talk about the little red lighthouse and the reason why it has come to settle in the NY side of the bridge. The New York Times also published a spread about the bridge and it was really significant. Another really useful and reliable source that they used is a quote from Lindenthal which is really credible because it is a first hand account from one of those responsible for pitching into the idea for the George Washington Bridge. They also used a source from Ahmann which was really credible too because they were responsible for the making or the coming of the bridge. Another source that they used was They also use the New York State Archives which is a pretty credible source because they speak about the progress of the bridge and basically giving information on the step by step advancements of the bridge. Another source that they used is The New York Tribune because it once published an illustration of Lindenthal’s vision for the Hudson River Bridge and it is credible because it is a newspaper. Finally, the last source that they used is the Library of Congress which was credible because they got a lot of pictures of the construction of the bridge and the photos of the inside of the bridge.
    A question that I have is why did Jimmy Walker decide to attend a NYU football game instead of attending the opening ceremony of the bridge. Another question that I have is why doesn’t it cost anything to go to New Jersey but when those in New Jersey come to New York they have to pay a toll. Finally the last question that I have is how many workers did it take to build the bridge over the 4 years of construction.

    ReplyDelete
  6. One of the many things I learned from this podcast is that the George Washington Bridge is a double-decked suspension bridge today. However, it was not double decked when it was first made. In addition, the bridge was mistakenly shaped; it was not intended to look like it does today. In the 1930’s it was the longest bridge in the world but currently the 4th longest suspension bridge. The bridges that exceed its length are the Golden Gate Bridge, Michigan Mackinac Bridge and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The bridge, in the process, had many unofficial names. A couple was the Cleveland Bridge and the Pride of the Nation Bridge. George Silzer, governor of New Jersey at the time, was a huge supporter of the project. Engineer and architect, Ahmin, was one of the main workers on the bridge. Many of George Washington Bridge’s aspects were ideas thought of by Ahmin. He had also worked on previous bridges most notably the Tri-Borough and the Verrazano Bridges. In 1926, George Silzer left his seat as governor to become the chairman of Port Authority where he oversaw the process of the bridge making. Almost a century later, the bridge is much known for suicides. A famous victim of cyberbullying, Tyler Clementi, was one of many victims.
    A scholarly source from the podcast was the New York Times. There was an article about several people dramatically fainting during the opening of the bridge. 10 years later, people are still grateful for the bridge. Another newspaper used was the New York Tribune where one of the workers on the bridge, Lidenthal, had his blueprint or design of the Hudson River Bridge printed. In addition, the podcast used primary sources, mainly quotes, from workers on the bridge. One of the quotes by Ahmin’s partner, Lidenthal, praised the loyalty of Ahmin and how he was a very good worker. There was also a quote from Ahmin where he talked about looking ahead of others; seeking the future. Lastly, a source that we talked about in class and used by the Bowery Boys was the library of congress where they were able to find some pictures of the process of making the bridge. In the podcast, the Bowery Boys talked about Silzer leaving his governorship to become chairman of Port Authority. My question is, was it worth it to leave such an important political seat in order to view the making of a dream? Another question is about the football controversy with Jimmy Walker: why did he prioritize a football game instead of going to the open ceremony of the bridge after many years of construction?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I found many facts interesting but there were a few that I really found cool. The first facts was that the plans to build across the Hudson River were very costly. They would also destroy people homes and cause chaos in the city around 57th St. The second fact was that the reason most bridges are built across the East River is because the East River is much narrower. A third fact is that the Port Authority was created to make the communications between the two states a little easier. The two states would fight a lot about the transportation between each other. A fourth fact is that there originally was a toll for pedestrians. It started at 10 cents the it dropped down to 5 cents and in 1940 the toll was removed. A final fact that I found very interesting is that there are 380,000 light bulbs installed in the bridge. The George Washington Bridge also took some inspiration from the Eiffel Tower. Some sources I found in this podcast was references to previous podcasts, books more specifically childrens books and the New York Times.

    I also had some questions that arose from this podcast. How much were they planning to spend on the original bridge across the Hudson River? Who came up with the names for the bridge and how did they narrow the names down? Why is the significance of George Washington greater than the other names that were proposed? Why was the current George Washington Bridge cheaper to build? Who created the Port Authority? Why did they decide to drop the pedestrian toll? Why do you have to pay going into New York and not going into New Jersey? Why was the lighthouse placed under the bridge?

    ReplyDelete
  8. In the podcast, I’ve have learned a lot of things about the George Washington Bridge. One being that we even had an existing bridge called George Washington Bridge that connects New Jersey to New York. I learned that it was completed on October 24 of 1931. It has 2 levels, 14 lanes in total. It is the fourth largest suspension now, but was the largest suspension bridge when it opened for vehicles to pass through. Toll for pedestrians were 10 cents, then 5 cents, then eventually became free for people to walk in. Today, toll is around 13 dollars per person going into New York, while it is free to leave New York to New Jersey. It was designed by the Othmar Ammann, an immigrant who immigrated to Ellis Island in 1904. He came from Switzerland and immigrated to America in order to find opportunity to study and work in bridge engineering. He was an apprentice to another well known engineer, Gustav Lindenthal. But soon he lost interest in helping Lindenthal with his plan of building a massive and expensive bridge, went off to start his own planning. He decided to build a smaller and less expensive bridge in a more rural area of New Jersey and New York. The governor of New Jersey liked the idea of its location because it bought more people of that area job opportunity. The grand opening led to thousands of people on and around the bridge, including the New York governor, Franklin Roosevelt. On the first day of opening, 56,000 vehicles drove through and 100,000 pedestrians walked on the George Washington Bridge for the first time, enjoying the feel and the view of the bridge.
    Throughout the podcast, I head many credible sources. First of all, the most credible source that they used was the New York Times. They talked about the little red lighthouse and how it was about to be torn down, but was eventually saved due to children love of the lighthouse on the NY side of the bridge. Another really useful and reliable source that they used is a quote from Lindenthal which is really credible because it is a primary source. Lindenthal has quoted about his plans of his bridge and exaggerated on how it will become one of the best designs that will become helpful and significant figure in the future, but sadly ended up not happening. It was another quoted that was mentioned in the podcast of Lindenthal criticizing Ammann for leaving him and using him to make a better and more successful design of a bridge. They also used a credible source from a quote of Ammann of his plans of the bridge and what he sees in the future with the bridge. Another good source was the upbringing of the New York State Archives which explain how great of the George Washington Bridge it was. Secondary credible sources were as well mentioned in the podcast. The statistics of how many cars and people were able to stand on the newly opened George Washington Bridge. Around 56,000 cars were able to drive through the new bridge on the first day. And around 100,000 pedestrians were able to walk. It was also mentioned how people were given a toll of around 10 cents to just enter the bridge and stand/ walk on it.
    A question that I would ask would be why are people now being toll to go to New York but are free to go to New Jersey?

    ReplyDelete
  9. In the podcast, I’ve have learned a lot of things about the George Washington Bridge. One being that we even had an existing bridge called George Washington Bridge that connects New Jersey to New York. I learned that it was completed on October 24 of 1931. It has 2 levels, 14 lanes in total. It is the fourth largest suspension now, but was the largest suspension bridge when it opened for vehicles to pass through. Toll for pedestrians were 10 cents, then 5 cents, then eventually became free for people to walk in. Today, toll is around 13 dollars per person going into New York, while it is free to leave New York to New Jersey. It was designed by the Othmar Ammann, an immigrant who immigrated to Ellis Island in 1904. He came from Switzerland and immigrated to America in order to find opportunity to study and work in bridge engineering. He was an apprentice to another well known engineer, Gustav Lindenthal. But soon he lost interest in helping Lindenthal with his plan of building a massive and expensive bridge, went off to start his own planning. He decided to build a smaller and less expensive bridge in a more rural area of New Jersey and New York. The governor of New Jersey liked the idea of its location because it bought more people of that area job opportunity. The grand opening led to thousands of people on and around the bridge, including the New York governor, Franklin Roosevelt. On the first day of opening, 56,000 vehicles drove through and 100,000 pedestrians walked on the George Washington Bridge for the first time, enjoying the feel and the view of the bridge.
    Throughout the podcast, I head many credible sources. First of all, the most credible source that they used was the New York Times. They talked about the little red lighthouse and how it was about to be torn down, but was eventually saved due to children love of the lighthouse on the NY side of the bridge. Another really useful and reliable source that they used is a quote from Lindenthal which is really credible because it is a primary source. Lindenthal has quoted about his plans of his bridge and exaggerated on how it will become one of the best designs that will become helpful and significant figure in the future, but sadly ended up not happening. It was another quoted that was mentioned in the podcast of Lindenthal criticizing Ammann for leaving him and using him to make a better and more successful design of a bridge. They also used a credible source from a quote of Ammann of his plans of the bridge and what he sees in the future with the bridge. Another good source was the upbringing of the New York State Archives which explain how great of the George Washington Bridge it was. Secondary credible sources were as well mentioned in the podcast. The statistics of how many cars and people were able to stand on the newly opened George Washington Bridge. Around 56,000 cars were able to drive through the new bridge on the first day. And around 100,000 pedestrians were able to walk. It was also mentioned how people were given a toll of around 10 cents to just enter the bridge and stand/ walk on it.
    A question that I would ask would be why are people now being toll to go to New York but are free to go to New Jersey?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Some high resolution views of the bridge.
    http://gigapan.com/gigapans/155739

    http://gigapan.com/gigapans/144738

    http://gigapan.com/gigapans/131014

    http://gigapan.com/gigapans/126277

    http://gigapan.com/gigapans/94756

    enjoy

    ReplyDelete