Grand Rapids has a beautiful downtown downtown area, with a developed area of skyscrapers and other downtown buildings along the impressive Grand River, Michigan's longest river. There are a number of historic bridges spanning this river in the downtown area, and they play a major role in forming the beauty and interest in the downtown area. The Pearl Street Bridge is one of those bridges. Its graceful arch spans provide a nice contrast to the intricate complexity of the nearby truss bridge also spanning the river. The bridges have lights on their superstructures to outline their distinctive shapes during the night.
This is (or was, depending on your view of the bridge as discussed in the next section) the third longest concrete arch bridge in Michigan, with the Belle Isle Bridge being in first place. Here in Grand Rapids, this bridge is one of two downtown historic arch bridges, the other being Fulton Street Bridge, which is the second longest arch in Michigan. Both of them have experienced significant alterations that seriously affected their historic integrity. Most immediately notable is the railings, which are not original. The loss of the original railings on these bridge is most unfortunate. It would be nice at some point to see a restoration that would replace these modern railings with something that respects the original design of the bridge. The Pearl Street Bridge has a number of plaques mounted on the western end of the northern guardrails. A plaque lists Westcott Engineering Company of Chicago, Illinois for designing the structure. This company may have designed the Fulton Street Bridge as well, although whether this is true or not is unconfirmed.
The Pearl Street Bridge is the victim of another far more serious alteration: it is actually no longer an arch bridge. Take a close look under the bridge, and you will see that all but the outermost parts of the arch bridge were removed, and modern pre-stressed concrete beams (AASHTO girder style) replaced them. This bridge is essentially a modern bridge with a historic arch facade and historic substructure. As such, the bridge has limited historic value. On the other hand, the bridge still retains its historic appearance and still lends attractive architecture to downtown Grand Rapids. The modifications done to this bridge do not represent a "best practice" for restoration, but do represent a good compromise when the demands for retaining a historic structure compete with a need for an efficient non-weight-restricted crossing. It is an better alternative to outright demolition to be sure! At the same time, arch bridges like this can often be rehabilitated for continued unrestricted use without having to replace the superstructure.
This bridge replaced a multi-span pin-connected Pratt through truss. The truss bridge looked strikingly similar to the 6th Street Bridge and may have been built by the same company around the same time.
The company that constructed this bridge was Koss Construction Company of Des Moines. This company was started by George Koss, and although he died in 1955, the company he started remains in business today. Visit their website.
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