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Lawrence Avenue Overpass

Lawrence Avenue Overpass

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: October 1, 2010

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Facility Carried / Feature Intersected
Lake Shore Drive (US-41) Over Lawrence Avenue
Chicago: Cook County, Illinois: United States
Structure Type
Concrete T-Beam, Fixed and Approach Spans: Concrete Slab, Fixed
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
1933 By Builder/Contractor: Unknown
Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
55.8 Feet (17 Meters)
Structure Length
96.0 Feet (29.3 Meters)
Roadway Width
124 Feet (37.8 Meters)
1 Main Span(s) and 2 Approach Span(s)
Inventory Number

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

This bridge's future is at risk!

Bridge Status: This historic bridge is slated for demolition and replacement!

View Archived National Bridge Inventory Report - Has Additional Details and Evaluation

View the Lincoln Park Historic District Nomination Form

View The Memorandum of Agreement For The Demolition of this Historic Bridge

About Lakeshore Drive and Lincoln Park

Lakeshore Drive is a major non-interstate limited access highway which follows the Lake Michigan Shoreline in Chicago. The highway is historically significant as an early example of a limited access highway. As evidence of how early an example it is, portions of the highway are also historically significant for being constructed under a Depression-era Works Progress Administration project conducted between 1937 and 1941. The highway passes through Lincoln Park, which is a large park that runs along Lake Michigan for a significant distance in the area of Chicago which is itself known as the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Lincoln Park is considered historically significant and the park is home to a large Historic District included on the National Register of Historic Places. The section of Lakeshore Drive which passes through Lincoln Park is a section that was constructed as part of the aforementioned 1937-1941 WPA project. The project included a number of bridges which incorporate architectural/aesthetic detailing and design, most in an architectural style based on the ideas of Art Deco. As such, many of those bridges which survive today are considered contributing structures to the Lincoln Park Historic District. These bridges should also be considered historically significant as surviving infrastructure from an early limited access highway as well.

About This Bridge

This bridge is essentially identical to the nearby Wilson Avenue Overpass. At first glance, these bridges appear to be unusual bridges are rather plain in appearance, with solid concrete railings that blend in with the fascia beams of the bridge, with only the stepped design of the piers and the ends of the abutments offsetting this design from itself and the abutments. A pattern of vertical lines throughout the concrete appears to be the only architectural detailing. At the ends of the abutment walls, the plain simplicity of the design seems interrupted by a rather attractive stone post. While this is certainly the appearance of the bridge today, this is not what the bridge was designed to look like. Sadly, this bridge has been severely altered by the removal of all aesthetic and architectural detailing with the exception of the stone posts at the end of the abutment walls. In reality, this concrete bridge was once completed faced in limestone. This stonework included architectural detailing that produced a bridge that had both Art Deco and Gothic revival details. At the time the Lincoln Park Historic District nomination was composed in c. 1994, this stone remained on both the Lawrence and Wilson Avenue bridges. As such, both bridges were listed as contributing structures. At that time, the nomination form also mentions that several bridges south of these two bridges were instead listed as not contributing to the historic district because the "decorative elements including fanciful abutment walls and rails of brick and stonework" had been removed leaving only the "bare concrete structures." It appears that since the time the nomination form was composed, the Wilson and Lawrence Avenue Bridges met the same fate. This is most unfortunate. A number of the other bridges on Lakeshore Drive have been preserved and even restored. It is unclear why these bridges have not received the same treatment. Instead, these bridges have been stripped of their beautiful adornments, and there is also evidence of structural deterioration including spalling of the concrete. Also on Wilson Avenue, a supplemental pier was added in the middle of the roadway to support a center beam that was severely spalling.

While the superstructure of the bridge remains intact, the loss of the architectural details on the bridge has had a devastating effect on the historic significance and beauty of the bridges. If a decision were made to restore these bridges however, and if the plans survive, the stonework and architectural details could be replicated and placed back on the bridge.

Information and Findings From Lincoln Park National Register Historic District Nomination

Discussion of Bridge

The Lawrence Dr. Bridge [101] and Wilson Dr. Bridge [102] are identically designed. They are Art Deco structures that also have historical references. These reinforced concrete structures are completely clad in limestone. Each has a flat arched opening divided by two sets of double projecting piers with simple ziggurat detailing. One set flanks the vehicular road and the other flanks pedestrian sidewalks on each rail. On top of each of the piers there is a there is a hexagonal stone element with a pair of vertical lanterns that makes reference to the Gothic Revival style. At the ends of the approach walls are simple posts with square finials. The rails of both bridges have horizontal bands of carved limestone Art Deco details. These motifs, triple vertical lines divided by squares or rectangles, were also used for a number of other WPA structures on Lake Shore Dr. Today, some of the stone detailing on both the Lawrence Dr. bridge and the Wilson Dr. bridge is now in abraded condition, probably due to sandblasting to remove graffiti. The details of the Wilson Dr. bridge are in better condition than those of the Lawrence Dr. bridge. Other than the apparent abrasions to the masonry, both bridges have good integrity.

Discussion of Nearby Bridges (May Suggest The Manner In Which This Bridge Was Altered)

The next three bridges south of Wilson Dr. are now very similar in appearance, although historically there were differences between their designs. The Montrose Dr. Bridge [103], Buena Ave. Underpass [104], and Irving Park Dr. Bridge [105] underwent similar alterations and today they have similar appearances. All three are reinforced structures with remnants of ashlar lannon stone facing flanking flat arched openings. Historically the bridges had engaged decorative elements including fanciful abutment walls and rails of brick and stonework. Those elements were subsequently removed and today, the bare concrete structures are exposed. The lannon stone facing was only applied at the lower portions of the abutments walls flanking the bridges' flat arched openings. Much of this stone facing has deteriorated and pieces have fallen off. Because these bridges have undergone major alterations and no longer convey their historic character, they have been deemed non-contributing.

Discussion of Lakeshore Drive

The widening and improving of Lake Shore Dr. into a limited access highway between 1937 and 1941 was probably the most ambitious of all of the WPA projects in Lincoln Park. The intent was to create a continuous route for heavy traffic that would segregate" persons passing through the park as a matter of convenience and those who come to it to enjoy its many attractions and recreation facilities" (CPO Annual Report 1937,106). This included a grade separation system that resulted in stylized Art Deco concrete bridge overpasses at the La Salle Dr. extension, Fullerton Pkwy., Diversey Pkwy., Belmont Dr., Lawrence Dr. and Wilson Dr., most of which had attractive engaged lighting fixtures. There are also a number of underpass bridges that allow pedestrian access beneath Lake Shore Dr. Some are utilitarian concrete structures that are essentially unadorned. An underpass that allows pedestrians to cross beneath Lake Shore Dr. at Barry Ave. is a stylized Deco structure that was likely designed by Buchsbaum. It is documented that four simple lannon stone pedestrian underpass bridges in the Montrose Ave. extension east of Lake Shore Dr. were designed by Buchsbaum. There were also some small sections of Art Deco retaining walls on Lake Shore Dr. that can probably be attributed to Buchsbaum. There is a remaining section of wall at the Lake Shore Dr. curve east of the Oak Street triangle. Based on "modern principles of highway design" the Lake Shore Dr. improvements allowed for a straight two-way route which totaled eight lanes at its widest point between the La Salle Dr. extension and Belmont Dr. (CPO Seventh Annual Report 1941,157). This southern area of the drive included a flexible rush-hour traffic system of hydraulic lane separators. This mechanical system of concrete "movable fins," would raise to configure various lanes of traffic at different times of day (ibid.). The hydraulic separators did not continue north of Belmont Dr. to Foster Dr. This area had a width of only six lanes, allowing for a center island landscape that followed the earlier stylistic treatment of the boulevard system. Lake Shore Drive's grade separation system continued north from the La Salle Dr. extension. The section between Belmont Dr. and Foster Dr. had four cloverleaf ramps linking the drive with the park and city streets.

Today, Lake Shore Dr. is a major arterial spine that extends through the entire seven mile length of Lincoln Park. The drive's current appearance primarily resulted from a WPA funded project between 1937 and 1941. Lake Shore Drive was developed as a limited access highway that would provide a continuous traffic route through the park. Re-grading was done and a number of bridges were constructed so that many portions of the new drive were elevated above the roads and paths that allowed access throughout Lincoln Park.


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View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Overview of Chicago Bascule Bridges (HAER Data Pages, PDF)

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