While Chicago is home to many excellent examples of good historic bridge preservation and maintenance this bridge is a striking exception. This bridge instead sadly represents one of the most shameful and disappointing things that could be done to a historic bridge short of demolishing and replacing it.
Structurally, this bridge is like many of Chicago's railroad grade separations, consisting of riveted steel stringer construction and supported by steel bents. It is actually two bridges parallel to each other, and the one on the east side actually curves a bit. However this bridge was built to be something special that set it apart from most railroad overpasses. Its designers made a point of trying to make the bridge look attractive and to be something that contributed positively to the surrounding area. The outside beams and bents of the bridge were encased in concrete to create a clean and uniform appearance. But the most unique detail was a unique pattern of inlaid colored tiles that were set into the concrete creating a colorful and interesting pattern that is not found on any other Chicago bridge. In addition, decorative pillars were placed on top of the bridge. The historical photo shown to the right displays the design of the bridge as built only failing to convey the color of the tiles.
At an unknown date, the Sinai Health System and Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital were allowed to place an advertisement on the bridge by completely painting over the unique inlaid tiles and the surrounding concrete, ruining what was once a rare example of a railroad overpass with aesthetic treatment and turning it into an ugly billboard and nothing visually distinguishing. The only part of the bridge that was not ruined was the pillars at the abutments, which are the only way that travelers can see the color of the unique tiles that are on this bridge. The tiles on the painted part of the bridge are nearly invisible, deprived of their unique colors, but the texture of them can still be discerned by close observation. It is unknown what company or agency was responsible for authorizing and selling the right to advertise on this bridge, however they should be ashamed of themselves for turning a beautiful bridge that offered some attractive scenery on Odgen Aveue into just one more place where Chicagoans are blasted with advertising. At the same time, Sinai Health System should also be ashamed for contributing to the defacing of this bridge. As a company who is supposed to work for the health of the community they should realize the value of a community that is more desirable on account of structures that are unique and pleasing to look at.
Neglect has also taken a toll on this bridge's aesthetic treatments. The unique decorative pillars, found on the western face of the bridge are crumbling out of existence. Close observation of these pillars reveals that even these have a few tiny colored inlaid tiles on them as well, testament to the attention to detail that was placed in the design of the bridge. Sadly, no effort has been made to repair or replicate these crumbling pillars.
This bridge was mentioned in a 1913 article in the Journal of the Western Society of Engineers that discussed how concrete could be used to improve the appearance of bridges. Its description of Ogden Avenue in this location was less than flattering, saying "...there is nothing in the way of beautiful landscape to mention and probably the officials believed that a little brightening of the concrete surface would relieve the monotony of a busy business street." Certainly, the bridge as built would have helped improve the appearance of Ogden Avenue. However today, it is doubtful that the average driver can even discern that this bridge is something special, let alone enjoy a beautiful bridge. In this area, Ogden Avenue has reverted to that monotonous business street with no beautiful scenery.
It is not known if if might be possible to reverse the damage done by painting the bridge. It it might be possible to carefully remove the paint from the concrete and tiles. It might also be possible to repair the damaged pillars, or even carefully replicate part of all of them. If it were possible to do these things and restore this bridge to its former beauty and glory it would certainly be a nice gesture to the community that would improve the appearance of the area.
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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.
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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