The Laramie Avenue Viaduct was noted as one of the oldest, largest, and most unaltered examples of a highway over railroad viaduct in Cook County. Chicago and the Cook County area is noted for its extremely large number of railroad over highway overpasses, many of them that are very wide, providing drivers with a tunnel-like experience. However, there appears to be a lesser number of bridges where the highway passes over the railroad. Further, many of the highway over railroad structures that remain are either relatively new or have been severely altered. In contrast, the Laramie Avenue Viaduct was constructed in 1939 and yet it retained its original railings and other architectural elements. With the total length of the bridge itself being 841 feet, and a very wide 44.3 foot roadway, this was a notably large structure.
The actual bridge was composed of 20 steel stringer spans. However leading up to those spans at each end was an earthen approach grade that was contained within concrete retaining walls that extended above the roadway to form railings. The retaining walls and railings were designed to match the bridge stylistically, however the width between railings was wider on this approach grade. At the point where the approach grade ended and the bridge began, large decorative concrete pillars on each side of the bridge were present. In true Chicago style, the southeast and northwest pillars contained large grandiose plaques filled with information about the bridge. Crossing the bridge, the bridge grade did not level off for very long in the center, so the experience was one of going up and then immediately descending again. The outermost stringers on the bridge were encased in a decorative concrete veneer that matches up with the railings to create a consistent appearance. The railings themselves were solid concrete with architectural detailing. The stringer spans of the bridge are supported by concrete column bents with caps that have a decorative curved design at the ends. The overall bridge's architectural design was somewhat reminiscent of Art Deco.
The bridge should be considered historically significant as an unaltered example of a large-scale project funded by Federal Depression-related relief funding programs. The plaques on the bridge list the Public Works Administration and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Morris Handler Company was the contractor for the superstructure, Ready Coal and Construction Company was the contractor for the substructure, and Thomas McQueen Company was the contractor for the approaches. Robert R. Anderson Company did street work for the bridge, and Kil-Bar Electric Company installed the lighting.
Unfortunately, this bridge suffered from extreme deterioration of its concrete column bents. There was severe and widespread spalling present, and emergency shoring had been put in place. By 2010, the bridge had been closed to traffic for safety reasons with plans for demolition and replacement to occur that same year. It is most unfortunate that the bridge was allowed to deteriorate in this manner. The superstructure was actually in decent condition, but the substructure ended up essentially beyond repair. It appears that the deterioration on the bents may have been due to water and particularly winter deicing salts leaking through expansion joints and dripping onto the bents below. This theory was supported by the observation of holes in the deck around the expansion joints, suggesting water was pooling and draining improperly around the joints. Providing a more water-tight form of expansion joint along with appropriate drain pipes to direct water away from the bents, limiting salt application, and/or coating the bents with a protective sealant would have all been possible solutions that could have helped prevent this deterioration from occurring. Now instead, much larger quantities of tax dollars will be spent to replace this bridge, which will also result in the loss of an attractive and noteworthy historic bridge.
HistoricBridges.org does suggest that the earthen approach grade along with its railings and retaining wall, as well as the decorative concrete pillars at the abutments could be left in place, and the replacement bridge simply built to extend from the ends of these approaches. Obviously this is not an optimal preservation solution, but it would be a partial salvage and reuse of the historic structure and would retain a few of the key architectural elements from the structure.
Main PlaqueFEDERAL WORKS AGENCY
PUBLIC WORKS ADMINISTRATION
JOHN M. CARMODY
FEDERAL WORKS ADMINISTRATOR
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
S. LARAMIE AVENUE
BUILT BY THE
CITY OF CHICAGO
EDWARD J. KELLY, MAYOR
BOARD OF LOCAL IMPROVEMENTS
JAMES P. BOYLE, PRESIDENT
WILLIAM W. LINK, VICE PRESIDENT
MORRIS HANDLER CO.
SEC. S. LARAMIE AVE. - 0808 - C. S.
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This historic bridge has been demolished. This map is shown for reference purposes only.
This bridge is closed to vehicular traffic and is slated for demolition.
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