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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 an important Chicago bridge as a significant example of a complex bridge type designed and built under the Depression-related funding program, Works Progress Administration. The bridge is also a contributing structure for the large Lincoln Park Historic District. Of the many contributing historic bridges in Lincoln Park, HistoricBridges.org considers this bridge, along with the nearby La Salle Drive and Fullerton Parkway Overpass to be the three most significant bridges. These three bridges should be singled out for long-term preservation.
The profile of the arch follows a long and slender curve, giving it a somewhat modern and graceful appearance for a 1930s bridge. Indeed, the bridge was featured in the Museum of Modern Art for several years after its construction. As such, the bridge is an attractive structure. The city has placed flowerboxes on the bridge which compliment the aesthetic quality of the bridge, and the bridge's function as a thing of beauty, not just a crossing.
This bridge can be misleading to those who do not know its history. The welds and bolts on this bridge, widely present on the bridge (instead of the more common 1930s fastener, rivets) may lead some to think the bridge has been severely altered. However, these welds and bolts are part of the original bridge. The welds, most widespread on the bridge, make this bridge significant as an early example of a welded bridge. There are a couple other bridges on Lakeshore Drive that employ early use of welding as well, such as the Fullerton Parkway Overpass. The architects and engineers who designed the bridge used the weld to make a bridge that is smooth and continuous in its appearance, but did so without making the bridge look plain or dull. There are some rivets on this bridge as well, but they are not widespread. The railings remain attached to the bridge by rivets, and some of the bracing still has rivets. Equally confusing is a part of the bridge that may look original but is not, which is the diagonal members. The diagonal members on this bridge might seem appropriate since bridge historians may relate to the use of diagonal members on an arch structure to form a bowstring truss. However the truth is the original bridge is a true arch bridge; the diagonal members are not original and were later added to provide more stability to the structure.
The bridge remains in good condition, although there were some deterioration that was arrested in the past. If you look closely at the main arch, you can see that while the bridge is painted now, it is old and in the past it had rusted enough to cause some section loss on the steel.
With the minor exception of the diagonal members, the overall design, function, and appearance of the bridge however does remain original, and thus the bridge continues to offer noteworthy historic value and significant beauty. The bridge appears to be well-used as it connects the popular beach to the equally popular Lincoln Park and the associated Lincoln Park Zoo. This, along with the historic design of the bridge, coupled with the aesthetic, graceful appearance of the arch make this a bridge worth preserving.
The bridge is further historically significant as a surviving bridge from the initial conversion of this section of Lakeshore Drive to a form of grade separated and limited access highway. Lakeshore Drive is distinguished as an early limited access highway that dates to the pre-interstate period of limited access highway development, an extremely significant period in surface transportation history. Other famous early limited access highways constructed during the late 1930s includes the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) in Ontario, Canada, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The bridge is also associated with a noteworthy engineer, Ralph H. Burke, who designed the master plan for Chicago's O'Hare Airport. However, Historic American Engineering Record suggests he played a minimal role in the bridge's design. The true engineers who designed this beautiful bridge remain largely unknown.
All this being said, there are plans and proposals to demolish and replace this historic bridge, and in 2007 the bridge was listed by Preservation Chicago as one of the seven most threatened structures. They composed a good history of this bridge available here. While some of the replacement bridge proposals are ambitious and offer unique and creative replacement bridge designs, none of these replacement bridges will offer any heritage value. It is the official recommendation of HistoricBridges.org that if the current bridge is not sufficient, than a second bridge should be built in a nearby location, with the historic bridge being left in place so as to gain the benefit of both accessibility and history. The existing bridge appears to retain excellent structural integrity and with continued routine maintenance it should cost effective to keep the historic bridge along with the new bridge. The only reason replacement of the historic bridge is planned is because it does not meet modern accessibility requirements (despite having a ramp approach in addition to stairs). Therefore, while there may be a need for a ADA compliant bridge, there is no need to demolish the historic bridge. A two bridge solution is the best solution, and is also supported by the Preservation Chicago report.
Information and Findings From Lincoln Park National Register Historic District Nomination
Discussion of Bridge
The WPA work at North Ave. not only included the lakefront building, but also the construction of a new bulkhead, placement of a fishing pier in the Lake, expansion of the beach, and development of a large steel and concrete footbridge over Lake Shore Dr. to provide pedestrian access to the area.
Also included as part of the North Ave. Beach project was the construction of the Passerelle to provide pedestrian access to the beach from the park west of Lake Shore Dr. Chicago Park District engineer Ralph Burke's design of this structure received national recognition from the Museum of Modern Art in 1947. It is a concrete and steel structure with an arch that spans 187 feet. The segmental arched steel bridge has a concrete walk with a gentle slope. At both of the extreme east and west sides of the overpass walk are two rampings descending to grade. Each is at an 180 degree angle and juxtaposed to both ramps is a stairway.
Designed by in-house chief engineer, Ralph Burke, the 1940 passerelle bridge was recognized by the Museum of Modern Art as one of the country's 47 best structures (The Architectural Forum 1944, 99). Composed of a three-hinged arch of 187 feet, the passerelle was designed to offer the pedestrian "the choice of the use of a stairway or ramp and on a grade of 10%, to reach the deck level of the bridge" (CPO Sixth Annual Report 1940, 160). The passarelle allowed people to safely cross over Lake Shore Dr. to the North Ave. beach which officially opened in 1940.
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.
Complete Bridge List
Chicago and Cook County are home to one of the largest collections of historic bridges in the country, and no other city in the world has more movable bridges. HistoricBridges.org is proud to offer the most extensive coverage of historic Chicago bridges on the Internet.
General Chicago / Cook County Bridge Resources
Chicago's Bridges - By Nathan Holth, author of HistoricBridges.org, this book provides a discussion of the history of Chicago's movable bridges, and includes a virtual tour discussing all movable bridges remaining in Chicago today. Despite this broad coverage, the book is presented in a compact format that is easy to take with you and carry around for reference on a visit to Chicago. The book includes dozens of full color photos. Only $9.95 U.S! ($11.95 Canadian). Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.
Chicago River Bridges - By Patrick T. McBriarty, this is a great companion to Holth's book shown above. This much larger book offers an extremely in-depth exploration of Chicago's movable highway bridges, including many crossings that have not existed for many years. Order Now Direct From The Publisher! or order on Amazon.
View Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) Overview of Chicago Bascule Bridges (HAER Data Pages, PDF)
Chicago Loop Bridges - Chicago Loop Bridges is another website on the Internet that is a great companion to the HistoricBridges.org coverage of the 18 movable bridges within the Chicago Loop. This website includes additional information such as connections to popular culture, overview discussions and essays about Chicago's movable bridges, additional videos, and current news and events relating to the bridges.
Additional Online Articles and Resources - This page is a large gathering of interesting articles and resources that HistoricBridges.org has uncovered during research, but which were not specific to a particular bridge listing.
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