I ♥ G-Dubs: A Love Letter to the George Washington Bridge on Its 80th Birthday
Most New Yorkers when asked to name NYC landmarks will conjure up the familiar array of iconographic symbols that make up our city: the Statue Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Ground Zero Memorial, etc. — but having grown up in Washington Heights, I can’t help but place the George Washington Bridge among the great monuments of Gotham pride. Ever since its completion in 1931, this stunning suspension bridge has remained a sight that never gets old, one which seems so in harmony with its surroundings, and whose effortless beauty belies a remarkable feat of engineering.
If architecture is frozen music, the George Washington Bridge is a symphony of galvanized steel. Its mighty beams, columns, and girders are 43,000 tons of steel nested within steel that combine to form an elegant bridge that is at once massive, yet seems to float in suspension: a symbol of the age of steel that will outlive us all.
The bridge’s proud towers soar 600 feet into the sky from its sturdy concrete anchorage, with suspension cables confidently spanning 3500 feet over the Hudson River between the rugged cliffs of the Palisades and the busy approach of the Port Authority on 179th Street. Just south of the approach, where Haven Avenue sits perched on bluffs overlooking Henry Hudson Parkway, lovers seek romance in the harmony of bridge and river, and loners find solace in its enduring presence. Motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians can be seen constantly shuttling back and forth on the bridge. Since 1962, The George (as it is so fondly named in traffic reports) added a six-lane lower level (likewise nicknamed "Martha") to mitigate congestion of large volumes of traffic, which today flow day and night.
On October 25, 1931, the George Washington Bridge was dedicated by N.Y. Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Ever since, it has been a constant source of fascination and inspiration for New York City residents and tourists who venture north of 125th Street. It presides over the Little Red Lighthouse of storybook fame, serves as a haunt for the peregrine falcon, and is a favored background for film and TV location shoots.
The George Washington Bridge has been host to 30,000 sunsets that each day color the latticed towers myriad hues, ranging from smoldering orange to dusty violet and every shade between: a panorama of shifting colors reminiscent of Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral. But as darkness gathers over the Hudson, the elaborate steelwork transforms from a Monet cathedral to a brilliant light show. In 2001, the George Washington Bridge was enhanced by new uplighting that on holidays blazes from within to reveal the bridge’s majestic structure. Today marks the bridge's 80th birthday, and throughout the whole of October, the gray goliath shares its feminine side by honoring Breast Cancer Awareness Month with all 156 necklace lights glowing a lovely pink at night. Early risers with binoculars can also see just how The George's enormous American flag is secretly unfurled during holidays.
The George Washington Bridge was recently designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Another institutional landmark for New Yorkers is The New York Public Library. NYPL holds many treasures of historical documentation about this particular bridge. For example, a cursory glance at the Library’s Catalog and online databases reveals some interesting information.
Facts About The George:
- After heated debate, the original name, the Hudson River Bridge, was rejected.
- Early plans included a proposed restaurant atop the towers.
- The bridge was originally meant to be encased in concrete, but engineers decided to go with the bare steel look.
- Twenty apartment buildings and two churches were demolished, and their tenants relocated, in order to make room for the bridge's approach (now The Port Authority).
- The George holds the world record for the largest free-flying American flag (90x60 feet), weighing in at 450 pounds.
In the Library, you can learn about the bridge; its architect, Cass Gilbert; and chief engineer, Othmar Ammann; and various aspects of the story of its construction, including the books George Washington Bridge: A Timeless Marvel and George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel.
Pick up a copy of the The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge in the Children's Room of your local library today, or better yet, make an appointment to view (or even borrow!) a 16mm print of the 1956 children's film adaption, or the two experimental films George Washington Bridge (1971) and Bridge High (1976), preserved by the Library's Reserve Film and Video Collection. Lovers of history can also watch an account of the bridge's construction on a 1930 newsreel at the Library for the Performing Arts.
NYC Roads website