Arlington Memorial Bridge
Arlington Memorial Bridge
|Architect:||McKim, Mead, and White|
|Governing body:||National Park Service|
|Added to NRHP:||April 4, 1980|
The Arlington Memorial Bridge is a Neoclassical masonry, steel, and stone arch bridge with a central bascule (or drawbridge) that crosses the Potomac River. First proposed in 1886, the bridge went unbuilt for decades thanks to political quarrels over whether the bridge should be a memorial, and to whom or what. Traffic problems associated with the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in November 1921 and the desire to build a bridge in time for the bicentennial of the birth of George Washington led to its construction in 1932.
Designed by the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White, Arlington Memorial Bridge defines the western end of the National Mall and is decorated with monumental statues depicting valor and sacrifice by sculptor Leo Friedlander. The bridge's draw span was permanently closed in 1961. The bridge has received minor repairs, but as of 2013, never a major overhaul and is deteriorating. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Early attempts to build a bridge
Early memorial bridge proposals
Congress first proposed a bridge at the site of the current structure on May 24, 1886. The resolution required that the United States Department of War study the feasibility of a bridge at the site, and a 24-foot (7.3 m) wide design was proposed later that year. The following year, the War Department suggested a "Lincoln-Grant Memorial Bridge". Congress again passed a resolution requesting another design, and in late 1887 the department proposed a "General Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Bridge". The new bridge would be a suspension bridge 105 feet (32 m) high, with 98 feet (30 m) of clearance below it. Designs for the bridge at this time included a bare steel truss bridge, a low masonry arch bridge, and a Romanesque Revival structure by Paul J. Pelz with two massive central towers, two barbicans on each end, and exuberant ornamentation. Senator John W. Daniel sponsored legislation in 1897 funding a survey of the bedrock in the Potomac River. Congress approved the legislation the same year, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers began the survey in July. The survey was delivered in March 1898.
Because the bridge was conceived as a memorial to Grant, Congress repeatedly blocked funding for the bridge. But after the Corps' survey was complete, Congress authorized the Secretary of War to expend $5,000 on a bridge design competition. To help improve the prospects for a bridge, a "National Memorial Bridge Association" was formed. In July, four prominent bridge engineers from New York — George S. Morrison, Leffert L. Buck, William H. Burr, and William R. Hutton — were invited to submit designs for a memorial bridge to honor American war dead. A five-member board appointed by the Secretary of War selected a design by William H. Burr and architect Edward P. Casey (designer of the Taft Bridge). Their design, based on the 1887 winning plan, called for a drawbridge made of steel and stone with 36 arches. A "classical" tower sat over each end of the draw span, on top of which would stand bronze statues of Victory. Statues of famous generals and statesmen (in either bronze or granite) would line both sides of the bridge.
Senator George F. Hoar blocked the bridge from being built in June 1900 because he opposed the design. The National Memorial Bridge Association began pushing again for a bridge in October 1900, and commissioned Connecticut architect George Keller to design plans. Keller's design went on display in Washington in November. Contrary to almost all previous designs, his bridge was low to the water and eliminated a draw span. His design featured a monumental Romanesque Revival arch for the D.C. approaches and a memorial column celebrating the Union on the Virginia side, both to be placed in traffic circles. Keller's design was published in architectural magazines, and by 1901 was widely seen as the appropriate design for the bridge.
In 1901, the American Institute of Architects proposed that the bridge extend New York Avenue NW (which then ended at 23rd Street NW) over the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery. But once more, Congress did not act.
McMillan Plan proposal
In 1900, the U.S. Senate created the Senate Park Commission to reconcile competing visions for the development of Washington, D.C., and especially the National Mall and nearby areas. Popularly known as the McMillan Commission after its chairman, Senator James McMillan of Michigan, the commission issued its report (commonly referred to as the "McMillan Plan") on January 15, 1902.
The McMillan Plan proposed siting a major new bridge and memorial at the western end of the National Mall, an area also known as West Potomac Park. Almost none of the National Mall west of the Washington Monument grounds and below Constitution Avenue NW existed prior to 1882. After terrible flooding inundated much of downtown Washington, D.C., in 1881, Congress ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge a deep channel in the Potomac and use the material to fill in the Potomac shoreline (creating the current banks of the river) and raise this and much of the land near the White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue NW by nearly 6 feet (1.8 m) to prevent future flooding. This "reclaimed land" — which included West Potomac Park, East Potomac Park, the Tidal Basin — was largely complete by 1890, and designated Potomac Park by Congress in 1897. Congress first appropriated money for the beautification of the reclaimed land in 1902, which led to the planting of sod, bushes, and trees; grading and paving of sidewalks, bridle paths, and driveways; and the installation of water, drainage, and sewage pipes.
Although Congress did not formally adopt the McMillan Plan, it began to implement it piecemeal over the next several years. In 1910, Congress enacted legislation establishing the United States Commission of Fine Arts, a body of federally-appointed architects, landscape architects, and others who began to formally push for construction of the bridge envisioned by the McMillan Plan. On March 4, 1913, Congress enacted the Public Buildings Act which, among other things, created and funded an Arlington Memorial Bridge Commission whose purpose was to settle on a design for the bridge and report back to Congress. Its members included the President of the United States, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the chairs of the committees on public grounds and buildings of the House and Senate (or their designees). But Congress appropriated no money for the commission's operation due to the onset of World War I, and it remained inactive.
Constructing the bridge: 1922-1932
A major embarrassment in 1921 prompted action on the bridge. On November 11, 1921, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery. President Warren G. Harding was caught in a three-hour traffic jam while on his way to the dedication because Highway Bridge (on which he traveled) could not handle the traffic. Harding resolved to never let it happen again. Harding sought an appropriation of $25,000 in 1922 to fund the work of the bridge commission, and Congress approved his request on June 12, 1922.
Initially, the Arlington Memorial Bridge Commission proposed a site for the bridge at the New York Avenue site, upstream from its current position. But the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA), which had legislative authority to approve the siting and design of memorials, opposed the plan. With President Harding presiding, the Arlington Memorial Bridge Commission held a joint meeting with Vice President Calvin Coolidge and the Commission of Fine Arts on December 18, 1922, at which time it was unanimously decided to adhere to the McMillan Plan and site the bridge on a line of sight between the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery. The parties also agreed to seek to construct a low (rather than monumental) bridge with a bascule (drawbridge) in the center to permit ship traffic to reach the Georgetown waterfront.
Bridge design considerations
The bridge commission asked the Commission of Fine Arts whether there should be an open design competition (as in the past) or whether the bridge commission should pick a designer itself. The CFA recommended a direct selection, and provided the names of three firms: Charles A. Platt, who designed the Freer Gallery of Art; Paul Philippe Cret, who designed the Pan-American Union Building; and the firm of McKim, Mead and White. The bridge commission chose a direct selection, and picked the firm of McKim, Mead and White on April 4, 1923. Architect William Mitchell Kendall was the lead designer.
Members of the D.C. business community immediately pressed for resolution on whether the bridge would have a draw span or not. Merchants in Georgetown were especially concerned that their small harbor could still be reached by large ships. On February 17, 1923, Colonel C.O. Sherrill of the Army Corps of Engineers stated that the Corps would only approve a bridge with a draw span.
Kendall's first design was submitted to the CFA in May 1923. Generally, Kendall's design was well received. His plan envisioned a low, Neoclassical arch bridge. Two statues stood atop each pier on both sides of the bridge. The D.C. approaches consisted of a traffic circle around the Lincoln Memorial linked to the Potomac River by a plaza and monumental steps (the "watergate"). Two memorial columns were placed in this plaza. On the Columbia Island landing, Kendall envisioned a gigantic crossarm circumscribed by a grassy ellipse, with traffic circles at the terminus of the north and south arms. The traffic circles would accommodate Lee Highway and the Mt. Vernon Memorial Parkway. Within the ellipse were placed two 181-foot (55 m) tall memorial columns. Two circular Greek Revival temples were planned for the western shoreline. The commission was especially pleased that Kendall had the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway linked to the traffic circle around the Lincoln Memorial rather than passing beneath the bridge via an arch. (Kendall had, in fact, intended to pass it through one of the bridge's arches but forgot to make the change.) However, CFA members asked that he consider widening the bridge to 100 feet (30 m) from the proposed 80 feet (24 m). The CFA also discussed at length its long-standing proposal for a major traffic circle on Columbia Island, within which would be placed a memorial to Robert E. Lee. There was also concern whether enough space had been allotted to permit the Mount Vernon Memorial Parkway, Lee Highway, and Memorial Drive (which was planned to cross the Boundary Channel via the Boundary Channel Bridge into Virginia and link with the main gate to Arlington National Cemetery). When the CFA gave its preliminary approval to the bridge design (but withheld a resolution on the approaches), models of the bridge went on public display in February 1924.
A bill authorizing construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge was introduced in the U.S. Senate on April 25, 1924, by Senator Bert M. Fernald. The Senate Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds reported out the bill in mid-May. But the legislation languished. With Congress due to adjourn on March 4, 1925, the Senate finally passed the bridge bill on December 30, 1924. Senator William Borah made a motion to reconsider the bill in late January 1925, Borah's motion did not ask the House to return the Senate-passed bill, so his motion would not affect the bill's passage either way.
The bridge authorization faced a far more difficult time in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds speedily approved the bill and reported it on January 27, 1925, less than a month after receiving it from the Senate. But with a legislative logjam in the House and only about 30 days left in the legislative session, the bill's chances for approval seemed slim. Floor managers helping to guide the bill through the final approval process tried to bring the bill up for approval on January 30, believing they had the necessary two-thirds majority to suspend the rules to allow the bill to be considered. Instead, the House voted to suspend the legislative calendar — blocking all legislative except for appropriations bills.
Floor managers won a major victory, however, when the House quickly passed the approrpriations legislation and allowed the bridge bill to be considered on February 18. There was significant opposition to the bill on the House floor. Many Democrats opposed the bill, and several Republicans felt it went against President Calvin Coolidge's budgetary restraint program. Many members of Congress received feedback from their constituents, who did not want their tax dollars to pay for a bridge in the District of Columbia. Representative Louis C. Cramton offered an amendment to the District of Columbia pay an "equitable amount" of the bridge's cost. (The amount was to be established by Congress at a future date.) His amendment passed by a vote of 103-to-89. Amendments to make the city pay 60 percent of the cost, to make the state of Virginia pay half the cost, and require the Army Corps of Engineers to build the bridge were defeated. Finally, the House approved the Arlington Memorial Bridge bill by a vote of 204-to-125.
The Senate agreed to the House amendments on February 20, and President Coolidge signed it into law on February 24, 1925. In 1926 Comptroller General John R. McCarl voided contracts for the construction of the $12.5 million bridge because they called for the hiring of a general contractor and not specific individuals, as he believed the law required. In 1927 Congress passed legislation resulting in changes to the law that allowed the contracts to proceed.
The Arlington Memorial Bridge Commission oversaw the design and construction of the bridge. Arlington Memorial Bridge opened on January 16, 1932. The dedication ceremony was headed by President Herbert Hoover. Designed by architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White, the neoclassical bridge is 2,163 feet (659 m) long. The bridge cost $7.25 million to build, of which $900,000 was attributed to the center draw span.
About the bridge
The bridge's northeastern approaches frame, in part, the Lincoln Memorial, while the bridge's southwestern landing is on Columbia Island. The northeastern end of the bridge marks the western edge of the National Mall. The southwestern end connects with Memorial Drive, which crosses the Boundary Channel Bridge into Virginia and travels to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County.
The northeastern entrance to the Arlington Memorial Bridge features The Arts of War sculptures, Sacrifice and Valor, which were completed by Leo Friedlander in 1951. On the pylons of each pier of the bridge are large circular discs with eagles and fasces designed by sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein.
The closest Metro station to the bridge is Arlington Cemetery. The bridge connects, both literally and symbolically, the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington House, the former home of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. This placement was done intentionally to represent the reunification of the North and the South.
At the southwestern terminus on Columbia Island, the bridge and its connecting roadways connect with the George Washington Memorial Parkway, State Route 27 and State Route 110. At the northeastern terminus, the bridge and its connecting roadways connect with Constitution Avenue, Independence Avenue, the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, and the District of Columbia segment of Interstate 66.
A peculiarity of the traffic circle at the southwestern terminus is that traffic already in the circle must yield to traffic entering the circle — the opposite of the standard rule. During morning rush hour, a portion of the traffic circle is closed to prevent mergers that would otherwise tie up rush hour traffic.
The center portion of the bridge is a metal draw span, intended to allow large vessels to pass upriver to Georgetown. However, with the construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge immediately upstream, which has no such provision, the draw mechanism has been abandoned. It was opened for the last time on February 28, 1961. The bascule leaves were to be counterbalanced with scrap steel embedded in concrete, but during the Great Depression there was not enough scrap available for the project. A ship load of Swedish iron ore eventually provided the 2,400 short tons (2,200 t) needed for the counterweights.
The bridge was damaged during floods in March 1936 when water infilatrated and caused shorts in the bridge's electrical equipment. Repairs were made in late 1938 and early 1939. The Electrical Underground Construction Co. of New York received $9,245 to replace damanged electrical equipment and wiring, install new electrical conduits, and install two sump pumps. In October 1936, a gear and a crankshaft in the drawbridge broke. The bridge was closed for nine hours while crews rushed to repair the span, which was open and unable to permit traffic. The closing, the Washington Post reported, was the longest since the bridge opened.
Major maintenance and repair work on the bridge first occurred in 1939. The draw span was repainted, the bridge repaved, the west engine room heated, and the granite on the Virginia abutments repointed and cleaned. This led to complete six-hour closures on August 30, August 31, and September 1.
In 1945, the bridge closed for two hours while workers attended to a jammed draw span. The bridge closed again on the evening of August 2, 1947, and most of the day on August 3 while workers replaced a gear and shaft that kept the draw span from vibrating when crossed by traffic. The National Park Service said it was the second-longest closing in the bridge's history.
Beginning in March 1964, at least one lane of the six-lane bridge was closed every day while repairs were made to the draw span. However, the bridge never fully closed.
Additional work on the bridge occurred in November 1976. The draw span was immobilized and sealed, and the approaches on both ends of the bridge repaired. Three lanes in the direction of heaviest traffic flow were kept open during rush hour, but only one lane in the opposite direction. At all other times, only one lane in each direction was open. These repairs lasted several weeks.
A major repair effort occurred in the summer of 1985. The work involved resurfacing the bridge and renovating some of its safety and other features. The $4.7 million construction project, which involved the closure of two lanes in each direction, was conducted by A.A. Beiro Construction Co. To help speed work, the company received a $4,000-a-day bonus for each day it finished ahead of schedule. Work began the first week of April 1985 and ended September 25.
Preservation and repair work was performed on the bridge's sidewalks in January 2011, which led to the closure of two lanes in each direction during daytime non-rush hours. The following year, Cianbro Corp. oversaw an eight-week, $788,000 project to repair the bridge's deck, restore granite curbs, and replace sidewalks at both approaches. At least one lane (and sometimes two) in each direction was closed in September, October, and November.
Despite these various projects, as of 2012 the bridge had never had a major overhaul. That year, a report by the Federal Highway Administration called for a complete overhaul of Arlington Memorial Bridge.
A major inspection of the bridge's deck began in February 2013. In April, National Park Service transportation division head Charles N. Borders II declared "The bridge ... is really at the end of, and beyond, its life cycle". The steel and concrete structure of the bridge and the draw span's steel supports had severely deteriorated, and the balustrades and benches on the bridge were cracking. The Washington Post reported that truck and bus traffic over the bridge could be banned within five years if immediate action was not taken. However, the park service had yet to budget for any repairs. Borders suggested that, if Congress were to immediately fund the bridge's complete overhaul, a two-to-four year reconstruction could begin as early as 2016. Repair options, which ranged from $125 million to $250 million in cost, included replacing the draw span with a fixed span and either closing the bridge completely for 40 to 100 days or keeping it partially open for four years.
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- "A Start for the Memorial Bridge." Washington Post. February 23, 1897.
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- The primary backers of the association were attorney D. K. Trimmer and engineer George A. Arms, both of York, Pennsylvania; real estate developer and insurance company executive Samuel Bealmear of Baltimore, Maryland; prominent D.C. businessman and civic booster W. S. McKean; Alexandria, Virginia, public schools superintendent James E. Clements; and others. See: "Memorial Bridge Association." Washington Post. March 4, 1899.
- Originally, 15 engineers were to be invited, but government officials believed the monetary prizes offered would be too small. By reducing the number of entrants, the amount of the prize could be boosted. See: "Memorial Bridge Designs." Washington Post. June 21, 1899; "The New Memorial Bridge." Washington Post. July 5, 1899; "Designs for the Memorial Bridge." Washington Post. July 14, 1899; "Plans for the Memorial Bridge." Washington Post. July 16, 1899; "Designs for Memorial Bridge." Washington Post. August 8, 1899.
- Members of the board were Lieutenant Colonel Charles J. Allen, Army Corps of Engineers; Major T.W. Symons, Army Corps of Engineers; Captain David Du B. Gaillard, Army Corps of Engineers and assistant to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia; architect Stanford White; and former Supervising Architect of the Treasury James G. Hill. See: "Plans for Memorial Bridge." Washington Post. February 6, 1900.
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- McKim, Mead and White only had responsibility for the architectural features of the bridge. The bridge commission turned over engineering aspects of the bridge to the Corps of Engineers on June 29, 1922. See: Christian, William Edmund. "The Arlington Memorial Bridge." Washington Post. November 1, 1925.
- "Change in Arlington Bridge Plan Forecast." Washington Post. January 20, 1923; "Draw Will Be Built In Arlington Bridge, Sherrill Announces." Washington Post. February 18, 1923.
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- "Bridge Models Exhibited." Washington Post. February 8, 1924.
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- "Surplus Measure, With 6 City Bills, Is Passed By House." Washington Post. January 27, 1925; "$150,000,000 Public Building and Bridge Bills Are Reported." Washington Post. January 28, 1925.
- "House Will Act Today on Appropriations Bills." Washington Post. February 4, 1925.
- "Jam in Congress Is Augmented By Senate Filibuster." Washington Post. February 16, 1925.
- "Arlington Bridge Bill Is Passed By House, 204 to 125." Washington Post. February 19, 1925.
- "Memorial Bridge Bill Ready for President." Washington Post. February 21, 1925.
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- "Memorial Bridge Bids Will Be Let, Ignoring M'Carl." Washington Post. January 7, 1926; "Bridge Commission to Study Contract for Memorial Span." Washington Post. February 17, 1926.
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- Scott and Lee, p. 104-105.
- "Arlington Memorial Bridge". National Park Service. July 7, 1998. Archived from the original on 9 June 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2009.
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- "Memorial Bridge". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 19 June 2009. Retrieved July 16, 2009.
- "Arlington Bridge Repair Work to Start Soon." Washington Post. November 28, 1938.
- "Memorial Bridge Shut 9 Hours As Crew Rushes Workmen Gears." Washington Post. October 21, 1936.
- "3 Contracts Let For Arlington Bridge Repairs." Washington Post. June 16, 1939.
- "Memorial Bridge Closings Listed." Washington Post. August 27, 1939.
- "Memorial Bridge Is Closed For Day During Repair Work." Washington Post. August 3, 1947.
- "Drawspan Repairs Shuts Bridge Lanes." Washington Post. March 3, 1964.
- Feaver, Douglas B. "Road Work to Impede Commuters." Washington Post. November 6, 1976.
- Lynton, Stephen J. "Memorial Bridge Work Set." Washington Post. April 19, 1985.
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- "Dr. Gridlock's Traffic, Transit Tips." Washington Post. January 9, 2011.
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- Ruane, Michael E. "After 81 Years, Landmark Memorial Bridge Is In Dire Need of Renovation." Washington Post. April 13, 2013. Accessed 2013-04-13.
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- Ellipsis in original.
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- Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations. Committee on Appropriations. United States Senate. First Deficiency Appropriations Bill, 1922. 77th Cong., 2d sess. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1922.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Arlington Memorial Bridge|
- Arlington Memorial Bridge at Structurae
- Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation:
- HAER No. DC-7, "Arlington Memorial Bridge"
- HAER No. DC-7-A, "Arlington Memorial Bridge, Watergate and Bridge Plaza"
- HAER No. DC-7-B, "Arlington Memorial Bridge, Boundary Channel Extension"
- "Bridge Unites Mount Vernon and Nation's Capital," April 1931 Popular Mechanics article showing bridge nearly completed