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56th Street Bridge

56th Street Bridge

Primary Photographer(s): Nathan Holth

Bridge Documented: July 22, 2010

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Key Facts

Chicago: Cook County, Illinois: United States
Construction Date and Builder / Engineer
By Builder/Contractor: Unknown

Technical Facts

Rehabilitation Date
Not Available or Not Applicable
Main Span Length
Not Available
Structure Length
Not Available
Roadway Width
Not Available
4 Main Span(s)
NBI Number
Not Applicable

Historic Significance Rating (HSR)
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Bridge Documentation

Overview of Historic Bridges Along This Section of Railroad

Originally an Illinois Central Railroad line, the large set of railroad tracks that run along the lakeshore north to Millennium Station in downtown Chicago are today served by Metra and Southshore commuter trains. Along the section of this railroad line that runs through the Hyde Park and Kenwood areas of Chicago, there are a number of old railroad over highway overpass bridges that were built with an unusually large amount of attention paid to the architectural detailing and beauty of the bridges. These bridges remain today with these details intact and largely unaltered from their original design. Some of the bridges contain what appears to be a simple reinforced concrete slab superstructures. Others contain steel superstructures, but on most of these bridges, the outside face of the outermost beams are encased in concrete for aesthetic purposes. The bridges also contain decorative concrete railings. The spans of the bridges are supported by concrete column bents (piers) that are also constructed with a number of architectural and aesthetically pleasing details. The final composition is intended to make the bridges look consistent, and give the appearance of an all-concrete bridge, when in fact the superstructure may be either steel or concrete. Among this group of historic bridges there are several different styles. The superstructure designs are all essentially the same, but the railroad appears to have employed several different designs for the aesthetic treatment of the bridges. Some of the bridges were constructed with train stations whose entrances are integrated into the abutments.

These bridges are all historically noteworthy in Chicago because they are examples of railroad over highway overpass bridges that were clearly designed with aesthetic treatment being a key part of the bridge. There are hundreds of old railroad over highway overpass bridges in Chicago, but many of them are largely utilitarian in design. By today's standards these bridges might be visually attractive, containing rivets and built-up beams with lattice or v-lacing, etc, but during the time that those bridges were built such elements would have been considered utilitarian construction, not aesthetic treatment. In contrast, these bridges on this section of the the former Illinois Central line clearly were designed to be beautiful, even though the superstructure type itself is a simple and mundane type.

These historic bridges do not currently appear to be at risk for demolition. While some of them show signs of deterioration, others were being repaired at the time of documentation, so it seems likely that those which are deteriorated might be repaired in the future. This is great to see, since these attractive bridges contribute positively to the surrounding area.

Details About The 56th Street Bridge

 This four span bridge has one main span for vehicular traffic that is a steel stringer composed of riveted built-up beams. At the south end, two short concrete slab approach spans are present, and at the north end, one short concrete span span is present. These approach spans provide for sidewalk access. This bridge is an example of a design that includes concrete with a pattern of simple inset rectangles on the outside edge of the superstructure. On the approach spans, these designs are simply cast into the concrete slab superstructure. On the main span, concrete was applied to the outside of the outermost stringer to cover up the riveted built-up steel stringers of the bridge superstructure, while allowing for a consistent continuation of the pattern of inset rectangles. The bridge has a train station entrance integrated into the south abutment.

The west side of this bridge has advertisement banner painted on top of the concrete encasement over the stringers. This banner detracts from the aesthetic qualities of this historic bridge. There are an infinitely vast number of far more appropriate avenues for advertising in a big city like Chicago than an attractive historic bridge. This banner should be removed from the bridge.


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