This monstrous bridge is an extremely impressive gateway to the city of Chicago for boats. This completion of this bridge was a product of depression relief programs. Although the bridge construction was started in 1929, the depression halted construction until federal aid got the bridge completed in 1937. When it was completed, this massive hulk of a bridge broke all sorts of records. It was the longest bascule bridge in the world, and was also the widest bascule bridge in the world! The lower deck of the bridge also added enough weight to enable each leaf of the bridge to claim the title of heaviest in the world as well! This is a bridge that should be fully experienced by walking on the lower level sidewalk and observing the shear mass of the bridge: four evenly spaced lines of trusses make this the wide bridge it is.
This is the first bridge at this location. The bridge and the road it serves was the result of a desire to connect parks along Lake Michigan on either side of the river with a large parkway system that connected all the major parks of Chicago. Originally called Outer Drive, it is today known as Lake Shore Drive. The system of parks and parkway was influenced greatly by the 1909 Plan of Chicago. Although perhaps originally conceived as a parkway to carry recreational traffic enjoying the park systems, it quickly became a major travel corridor, a characteristic it retains today.
Anyone who has walked on the eastern sidewalk of this bridge before 2021 knew that it is an extremely busy and narrow sidewalk, since in addition to being a normal sidewalk, it also carries the highly popular Lakefront Trail, which is a very popular bicycle route. It is common for bicycles to become entangled with other bicycles and pedestrians on the bridge. At one time, there was a hideous proposal to construct a separate bridge next to the Lakeshore Drive Bridge that would be a dedicated trail bridge. The design was a high level cable stayed bridge and it would have clashed terribly and obstructed the view of the Art Deco beauty of the historic Lakeshore Drive Bridge. Fortunately this plan was scrapped for a better one that involved widening the existing sidewalk through an innovative project that not only widened the existing cantilevered sidewalk on the bridge, but cut a tunnel through the bridge tender houses, enabling the sidewalk to remain wide at what would otherwise be a choke point in a wider sidewalk. The wider sidewalk maintains the lane divisions for bicycles and pedestrians found elsewhere on the Lakefront Trail. While obviously, this project altered the lower section of the bridge tender house, HistoricBridges.org believes this is a good solution and far better than constructing the independent cable stayed bridge. Another benefit of this project as originally described was to install new railings on the sidewalk that exactly replicated the Art Deco design of the original railings that were originally found on the upper deck of the bridge. The above rendering shows that intention at the start of the project. Those railings were some of the most beautiful railings found on Chicago bridges, and they were unlike the other ornate railings found on other downtown bridges. The replica railings on the sidewalk would be a nice way to bring the architecture of those ornamental railings back to life on the bridge, just like the beautiful replica railings installed on the Wells Street Bridge in 2013. For unclear reasons however the plan to replicate the original railings was not seen through to completion. The railings installed are not bad looking, and they do hint at the original design with Art Deco detailing, however the architectural design is the same as the original railings in the way that the Wells Street Bridge railings were exact replicas of the originals. Its possible the original replicas were canceled due to cost, or perhaps the replica railings would not have met modern design code for railing, especially since the railing panels appear to have been enlarged, perhaps due to the sidewalk being classified as a bicycle path (bicycle railing under modern codes is taller than sidewalk railing).
The Lake Shore Drive Bridge did not originally have sidewalks on the lower level. The photo, above left, shows the bridge before sidewalks were added to the lower deck. Additionally, the upper level of the bridge which did originally have a sidewalks, had unique, beautiful railings that were unfortunately lost during the conversion of the upper deck to support vehicular traffic lanes throughout the entire width of the bridge deck. This conversion removed the upper deck sidewalks. The ornate railings can be seen in the photo, above right.
At one time a single leaf bascule bridge on this highway crossed the nearby Ogden Slip, a canal that ran between Illinois Street and North Water Street. This span has unfortunately been removed and replaced. Look at the historical photos above showing aerial views of this lost bridge.
The above three photos show the demolished and replaced Ogden Slip Bridge. Composed of a single leaf of short length, it was quite a contrast to the nearby enormous bascule over the Chicago River. However, despite its short length, it maintained the same impressive width as the Chicago River Bridge, giving the bridge unusual proportions. The bridge had two bridge tender houses, both located at the southern end of the bridge.
Main PlaqueOUTER DRIVE IMPROVEMENT
CHICAGO PARK DISTRICT
EDWARD J. KELLY
R. J. DUNHAM PRES.
CHICAGO PLAN COMMISSION
FEDERAL EMERGENCY ADMINISTRATION
OF PUBLIC WORKS
DEDICATED OCTOBER 5, 1937
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
LAKE SHORE DRIVE STRUCTURES
CITY OF CHICAGO
PAUL A. KARAS
Commissioner of Public Works
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This bridge is tagged with the following special condition(s): Double-Deck and Unorganized Photos
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