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Thread: Williamsburg Bridge

  1. #1

    Default Williamsburg Bridge

    A 100-Year Span Gets Its Big Moment
    The city steps out for the Williamsburg Bridge's centennial
    * *
    By Ellen Mitchell
    Ellen Mitchell is a freelance writer.

    June 19, 2003

    It was the final cable to be run on the newly completed Williamsburg Bridge, and work crews that June day in 1902 celebrated its placement with a spirited game of capture the flag. The prize: a hand-sewn 45-star American flag that flew from the final cable. Steelworker Henry Johnson won it.

    Johnson held on to the flag until 1933, before handing it over to Christopher Mollenhauer, then president of the Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh. When Mollenhauer died, says Kay Turner, folklorist for the Brooklyn Arts Council, the flag disappeared.

    This Sunday the flag, rediscovered in the bank's basement 50 years after Mollenhauer's death, will be returned to the bridge for the first time in a century. The flag, now preserved under glass, will be carried by dignitaries who will lead a walk across the bridge - from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Manhattan's Lower East Side - to mark the 100th anniversary of its opening to the public in 1903.

    Many events will mark the daylong centennial celebration for the Willy B, as the bridge is affectionately called by its users, but perhaps none will better capture all it has meant to generations of locals more than the bridge walk.

    "When we were small, we looked at the bridge as an adventure. You walked and walked and finally reached the outerlands of Manhattan," said Brooklynite Vincent Abate, born just blocks from the bridge in 1918. "The bridge was all about taking us to Delancey Street; anything you wanted to buy you got right there.

    "The statue of George Washington in the plaza there was the first statue I ever saw," said Abate. "And we still have Washington up there on his horse, looking out for us to see who's coming into Brooklyn."

    Each day about a thousand people, either on foot or bicycle, travel the single pedestrian pathway that runs through the middle of the eight lanes of vehicular traffic and above the subway line, says Thomas Cocola, spokesman for the New York City Department of Transportation.

    The Williamsburg may never claim the cachet of its nearby neighbor, the Brooklyn Bridge, which is known by its distinctive granite towers and mentioned in poetry and song. No one jokes about wanting to sell you the Willy B. Visitors confuse it with its immediate neighbor, the Manhattan Bridge, which also spans the East River.

    "People always ask me, 'What bridge are we on?'" said Michael Devine, the current president of the Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh, with a laugh. But "through the eyes of a 5-year-old, the bridge was enormous and a place from which to see the world." (The bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world when it was built.) "Walking across was the fun part. On the other side were all these kosher delis and a hot dog would be waiting for you," said Devine, who was born in Brooklyn in 1946.

    The Willy B may have suffered by comparison with its neighboring bridges, he said, because, "it went from one poor neighborhood to another." The bridge crosses the East River from Roebling and South Fifth Streets in Williamsburg to Delancey Street in Manhattan.

    Indeed, Williamsburg has had long periods of hard times. Early in the 20th century, tenements proliferated and the area became one of the most heavily populated in New York City. During the 1930s, many businesses declared bankruptcy, leaving behind abandoned, decaying factories and warehouses. Prosperous families moved to the suburbs. Looting and arson were commonplace. Over the next few decades, several enormous public housing projects were built to house the ever- burgeoning blue-collar population, only to be torn asunder in 1957, when the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway cut through the neighborhood.

    The bridge fared no better and had to be closed for a while, in 1988, due to corrosion in the cables, beams and steel supports. "At one time we were thinking of throwing it down and building a new one," said Abate, who has served on committees to discuss the state of the bridge. "Thousands of residents would have had to relocate, and it wasn't in our view to do such a thing, so ever since they're repairing, repairing, repairing and repairing."

    Which brings us to 2003 and the 100th birthday celebration - Turner's brainchild.

    "The ongoing construction has been noisy and dirty, and my neighbors and I cursed it," she said, referring to the city's $1billion bridge rehabilitation project, which began in 1991 and is slated to end in 2006. Then in April 2001, as she traversed the bridge's underpass on her way to the subway, a glob of mud fell from a forklift, hitting her in the head. She stared out the subway window at the work crews and thought to herself it would be a far more positive thing if she could stop cursing the bridge and start celebrating it.

    Informally, she started interviewing Department of Transportation engineers and workers and photographing the ongoing restoration. Through her work with the Brooklyn Arts Council, Turner applied for a grant from the New York State Council of the Arts for a small festival celebrating the construction. When she realized the centennial was coming up, the idea for a celebration, she said, took on a life of its own.

    The day comes as the winds of change once again blow through Williamsburg.

    "This is a neighborhood in which the word diversity could have been invented," said Devine of the Dime Savings Bank, "and it's in the process of reinventing itself. Real estate values have exploded in the past two or three years. There's new construction on every piece of land that was vacant and renovation of existing buildings. The area has a perception of being the "in" place to be. We have new businesses, clubs, lots of restaurants, art galleries, old buildings being converted for office space or residential use."

    And a new generation of walkers on the bridge. "It's great," said Devine. "I see young Hasidic women pushing baby carriages, Hasidic men, young people riding bikes, Hispanics walking to work. It captures what this neighborhood looks like at the moment."

    Visitors can see for themselves this Sunday from 11 a.m. through 6 p.m. around Continental Army Plaza at the foot of the bridge's Brooklyn side. The bridge walk steps off at noon. Street performances, bands and foods will represent the area's multicultural gestalt, as will photo, art and educational exhibits, local crafts, story-swapping events, and games that grew up in Brooklyn such as stoopball, stickball and hit-the- penny. Domino Sugar, located in Williamsburg since 1857, will provide a truck-size birthday cake topped by a giant image of the bridge. The bridge, of course, will be open - should anyone feel like walking over to Delancey Street.
    Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

  2. #2

    Default Williamsburg Bridge

    The view of downtown Manhattan from the pedestrian walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge.

    The Williamsburg Bridge with the Circle Line boat and Domino Sugar Plant.

  3. #3
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    Manhattan - South Village

    Default Williamsburg Bridge

    From the bikepath:

  4. #4

    Default Williamsburg Bridge

    Nice shot

  5. #5

    Default Williamsburg Bridge

    June 22, 2003

    The Other Bridge, but All Brooklyn


    It has often been pointed out that no great poem has been written to the Williamsburg Bridge like Hart Crane's ode to the Brooklyn Bridge, and that no one has ever tried to sell the Williamsburg to an out-of-town sucker.

    Yet in its long life as a workhorse, the Williamsburg Bridge has carved out its own distinct identity, and it is not a minor one. It is the Williamsburg Bridge that opened Brooklyn to the proletarian Jewish and Italian immigrants who had been crowded into the ghettoes of the Lower East Side, shaping the Brooklyn whose earthy charm endures today.

    These immigrants crossed the new bridge from their swarming tenements, moving into other tenements that might have had the small but precious advantage of a bathroom inside the apartment or a back alley instead of an air shaft. They took jobs along Williamsburg's waterfront, which was chockablock with refineries, foundries and warehouses. Yet the bridge, with its walkway to Delancey Street, allowed them to stay in touch with the relatives they left behind in Manhattan without the expense of a ferry.

    That history will be celebrated today, 100 years after the bridge opened, with speeches, stickball demonstrations, the cutting of a 10-foot cake big enough to feed thousands and the sounds of klezmer, merengue and the other music of those who came over the bridge to Brooklyn.

    The comedian Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky, grew up on Williamsburg's teeming South Third Street during the Depression. His mother was widowed when he was 2 and his older brothers, Irving, Lennie and Bernie, worked whatever jobs they could to pay the $16 rent for an apartment that faced the back.

    "There was," Mr. Brooks recalled, "a courageous family meeting around the porcelain kitchen table, and my mother said she was very depressed looking out in the backyard. `All I see are clotheslines and cats,' she said. `I want excitement. I want a better life.' She wanted to move to the front overlooking South Third Street."

    The neighborhood's inhabitants were ambitious (Mr. Brooks's family moved to the front for an extra $2 a month), and the bridge connected them to the more glamorous world uptown. It was over the bridge that Mr. Brooks's Uncle Joe took him in his cab to see his first Broadway show, "Anything Goes."

    "It was the road to the future," Mr. Brooks said of the bridge. He, of course, now has a hit Broadway musical himself.

    In the 1940's and 1950's, the bridge and its subway line opened Brooklyn to another set of newcomers — Puerto Ricans from the island or from crowded Manhattan — and in more recent years, the bridge has transported a group of aesthetic refugees, bohemian artists fleeing the day-tripper buzz of the East Village across the East River.

    In serving as this gateway, the bridge created some of New York's most flavorful neighborhoods. There are the streets filled with Yiddish-speaking Hasidim branching off clamorous Lee Avenue, the awning-shaded row houses and indolent cannoli cafes in the Italian enclave to the north, the domino players and Technicolor murals of the Puerto Rican Southside, the garage art galleries of the bohemian quarter along Bedford Avenue.

    The stately Brooklyn Bridge, which federal officials said last week had been a recent terrorist target, preceded the Williamsburg by 20 years. But it was not exactly an immigrant pathway because it connected Wall Street and City Hall with the somewhat elite Brooklyn Heights, said Dr. Kay Turner, a folklorist with the Brooklyn Arts Council. When the Williamsburg was built, it was the world's largest suspension bridge — 7,308 feet long with a main span of 1,600 feet. Looking like something put up by a very diligent boy with an Erector set, the Williamsburg was built for horse and carriage, but it soon carried trucks and subway trains.

    Williamsburg was then largely Irish and German. The Peter Luger Steak House had opened as a German establishment in 1887. Betty Smith sketched the neighborhood's poor Irish warren in her autobiographical novel, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," describing how 7-year-old Francie Nolan and her 6-year-old brother, Neeley, took baths together in a washtub in their railroad flat's kitchen and scavenged for pieces of junk to sell for pocket money. Within 10 years of the bridge's opening, the neighborhood's population had doubled to 250,000, and the better-off Irish and Germans began leaving.

    The Italian neighborhood to the northeast was close-knit. Everybody's parents and grandparents seemed to come from a few towns like Nola and Teggiano east of Naples. Anthony Bamonte, 63, remembered how the single phone booth in his family's 103-year-old restaurant, Bamonte's at 32 Withers Street, served as a lifeline to the outside world.

    "Nobody had phones," he said. "People used to call here, and we had to go across the street and holler to so and so to come. We used to go to 35, to 37, to 38. Sometimes we had to go up the block. You knew every family."

    While residents of other Italian neighborhoods have fled to suburbia, those of Williamsburg have stayed close to the bridge. Joseph Sciorra of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College, has lived on Devoe Street for 20 years and likes a place where he can have a fine meal at S. Cono's Pizzeria or pastries at Fortunato Brothers, started in 1976 by four brothers from a village near Nola.

    "I like the fact that it's still a neighborhood," Mr. Sciorra said. "If I don't have money on me at the local grocery store, the guy gives me credit till I come back next time. If I've forgotten something upstairs, I can leave my kids on the stoop and not worry."

    Eugenio Maldonado's family came right to Williamsburg from Puerto Rico in 1953 and settled in a tenement on South Fourth Street, close to where he now works as chief of operation at El Puente, a community organization whose name means "The Bridge." His mother, eager to save money, used to walk her brood of eight across the nearly mile-and-a-half-long bridge to buy clothing and school supplies along cheaper Delancey Street, bribing them with promises of ice cream. As they took in the bridge's cobweb of girders, the tar roofs and water towers of Williamsburg and Manhattan's skyscrapers, she talked to them "about how Manhattan was an island and that we came from an island," he recalled.

    Later, she peddled to her neighbors the sweaters and dresses she bought wholesale on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. With her earnings, she opened her own tailoring shop.

    "The Hasidic community used to come to my mother's shop to turn the collars of their shirts when the collars used to wear off," he said. "They used to pay her 60 cents apiece."

    Luis Garden Acosta, El Puente's president, said that the bridge and the No. 6 train were the links that knitted together Puerto Rican families in Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, East Harlem and the South Bronx and gave them the political power of a single community.

    Mr. Garden Acosta's father used to take him to the colorful shops on Havemeyer Street, where Natan Borlam, an Auschwitz survivor from the former Czechoslovakia, opened a children's clothing shop in 1952. Mr. Borlam's son, Charles, said his father "figured that a neighborhood where people dressed up for Shabbos would be a good neighborhood to start a clothing shop in."

    Natan Borlam, who studies Torah commentaries between customers, now sells bar mitzvah and communion clothes at low prices to people from around the city and, through the Internet, in much of the country. But whenever the bridge has been shut for the reconstruction that has dragged on since 1988, he loses 30 percent of his business.

    As many Jews moved out to Queens or the suburbs, the only Jews left in Williamsburg seemed to be Hasidim, most of them followers of the Satmar dynasty. The first Satmar rebbe to stop in Williamsburg was Joel Teitelbaum, who came in the late 40's after spending time in the displaced persons camps with other Holocaust survivors. He chose Williamsburg to settle the remnants of his community because it had all the Orthodox necessities but was far enough away from the temptations of Manhattan.

    "He looked for a quiet community so he could restore shtetl life," said Rabbi David Niederman, president of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.

    In time, Rabbi Teitelbaum conducted tashlich — the Rosh Hashana service in which sins are ritually discarded into running water — from the bridge.

    "The Williamsburg Bridge was the symbol of our getting back our religious freedom," Rabbi Niederman said.
    Today Hasidim are regular users of the bridge's refurbished walkway. Alongside bicyclists and artists with pierced noses, Hasidic women push baby carriages on the walkway as their daily exercise.

    "It doesn't cost money, you can go anytime, and you don't need an instructor," said Annie Deutsch, who was taking a constitutional with her friend Rachel Friedman.

    Melting pot encounters, partly created by the bridge, have clearly reshaped the 128,000 people who now live in Williamsburg. They have brought conflicts, like those between the Hasidim and the Latinos over scarce housing. But they have also brought pleasures. Mr. Maldonado walks across the bridge to Manhattan just as he did when he was a child, but now he heads for Katz's Delicatessen and treats himself to a pastrami sandwich.

    "Then I walk back on the bridge and sweat it out," he said.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  6. #6


    December 14, 2003


    Want to Build a Bridge?


    This Friday, on Dec. 19, New York's Williamsburg Bridge will turn 100. Leffert L. Buck, the chief engineer, finished his plans for the bridge in 1896. At the time, the Brooklyn Bridge, then only 13 years old, was already carrying considerably more people and vehicles than its builders had predicted. To accommodate the expected heavy commuter traffic between the Lower East Side and the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, Buck envisioned a bridge approximately half again as wide as its more famous neighbor, with 10 rather than six lanes for trains, trolleys and carriages. There would also be two paths for pedestrians. (The Brooklyn Bridge has only one.)

    While the Williamsburg Bridge would never rival John and Washington Roebling's creation in the hearts of New Yorkers, it did find other ways to distinguish itself. At 1,600 feet, its main span is four and a half feet longer than that of the Brooklyn Bridge. For 20 years, in fact, it held the title of the world's longest suspension bridge.

    Even if it were shorter, though, the Williamsburg Bridge would still be worthy of celebration. After all, in exchange for an original investment of $24 million (including land) and a more recent sum of $1 billion for repairs and renovation, the city has received 10 decades of faithful service — with only minor interruptions.

    So, what's the best way to commemorate the Williamsburg Bridge, its creators and those who continue to maintain it?

    For those in New York, the most obvious way is to stroll across the bridge. Soak in the panoramic views and open space — the walk takes only 20 minutes. It's worth remembering that for many years, particularly in the early part of the 20th century, the bridge provided New Yorkers a rare and welcome escape from the city's heat and crowding. (If your schedule is tight, ride a bike over one of the newly reopened bike lanes.)

    Don't forget to look at the bridge itself, both up close and from a distance. Bridges are among the friendliest and most revealing teachers of engineering. Like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge (both visible farther down the East River), the Williamsburg Bridge offers a primer on the basic elements of a suspension bridge. These include imposing towers at each end of the main span placed as far apart as possible to keep the waterway unobstructed. The towers are tall enough to allow the cables to drape at the optimum curvature while still suspending the roadway high enough above the water. What you can't see as easily are the two massive masonry-enclosed anchorages, one on each side of the river. The ends of the four cables are secured to the anchorages to counterbalance the weight of the main span and all its traffic.

    For people who enjoy a more hands-on approach, you can honor the bridge by building your own model of it. Click on the link above right, under "Multimedia," for instructions for cutting up the Op-Ed page (not something that's generally encouraged) and constructing a smaller version of Leffert Buck's creation. It won't be easy. You'll need a copying machine, some heavy paper (I used cover stock), glue, tape, an X-Acto knife and patience. But think of it this way. It took seven years to build a bridge that's lasted a century. You can have your own version in only a few hours — and who knows how long the pleasure will last.

    David Macaulay is author, most recently, of "Mosque."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  7. #7
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    A stroll on the (intensely red) walkway:

    Walkway over Roadway

    Lower East Side

    The FDR

    East Tower

    East River, LES, and Midtown

    East River, LES, and Downtown

    Brooklyn Naval Yard

    Corlears Hook Park

    Back down to Delancey St.

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    Default Interesting Design Proposal by Der Scutt

    Most great bridge designs of the world have been enhanced with the input of architectural consultants. The opportunities to make the Williamsburg Bridge replacement a spectacular landmark was clearly recognized by the engineering team early on. Der Scutt Architect was invited by DRC Consultants to enhance the unusual structure.

    The towers would be sheathed in five-foot-by-seven-foot reflective panels with fine silicon joints, giving the appearance of a warm, cinnamon-colored reflective jewel in the East River, bringing a new elegance and new life to the surrounding areas in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Each of the bridge’s two 456-foot-high towers culminates in a graceful inverted triangular structure that are not only important visually, but have a practical purpose as well.

    Each tower will house an important public service. The Brooklyn tower, with its breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline, will house a two-story restaurant. The Manhattan tower will house a historic bridge museum, chronicling the history of New York’s great bridges.

    No where else in the world would there be a place such as this, with its singularly beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline. It would prove to be an important New York Landmark attracting tourists from all around the world.

    Because governmental financing was not concluded, the project was abandoned.

  9. #9


    Because governmental financing was not concluded, the project was abandoned.
    Thank the Gods!

  10. #10


    Quote Originally Posted by BrooklynRider View Post
    Each of the bridge’s two 456-foot-high towers culminates in a graceful inverted triangular structure
    This guy needs to look up graceful in the dictionary.

  11. #11
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
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    Big Changes Coming to Williamsburg Bridge Bike Path

    As previously reported, the DOT is implementing some long-overdue changes to the bike-pedestrian paths on the Williamsburg Bridge. The paths, which have become increasingly crowded and dangerous due to the city's cycling boom, are being altered so that walkers and bikers will each have their own side, like on the Manhattan Bridge. The work is beginning today, with the complete closure of the south side path. Then it's on to the sinister "Phase 2"! Kidding, it's not actually sinister (at least, that's what the DOT wants you to believe). Phase 2 just means the complete closure of the north path, after the south side reopens. And during the repair of the Single Width Path on the Manhattan side (i.e., The Eternal Ramp), the DOT promises work "will be performed only in one-half of the path, to allow the pedestrians and cyclists to use the other half." Peruse the DOT's little pdf here.

    When it's all done, the north side of the bridge will be for cyclists, and the south side for pedestrians, who will no doubt appreciate not having to constantly look back over their shoulders in fear of getting clipped by the fixie tattooed speed demons blasting by en route to the to the McKibben dorms. The work is expected to take six to eight years weeks, and will also include the removal of "old markings and graffiti vandalism." [Via Streetsblog]

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