Way Back Machine | Name That Bridge, 1931 Edition
By JAY MAEDER George had popped up entirely from out of the blue. Not once from the very conception of the world’s mightiest suspension span had anyone intended to call it the George Washington Bridge. Not once, not over the three decades it took for the pols of New York and New Jersey to decide to build the thing in the first place, not over the several more years that followed the September 1927 groundbreaking, as workers lustily bored and poured and hammered and riveted and strung up cables, was it ever known as anything but the Hudson River Bridge.
Again with the hand-wringing over what to name a bridge. Edward I. Koch is having as much trouble getting a bridge for himself as George Washington did 80 years ago on the other side of the island. In George Washington’s case, there was actually a public referendum on whether to call the George Washington Bridge the George Washington Bridge. And George Washington actually lost.
And then suddenly, in January 1931, as the great construct neared completion, the Port of New York Authority announced that it was going to be called the George Washington Memorial Bridge instead.
Well, what for? Much was the consternation. Loud was the cry and hue. Civic groups fussed. Newspaper editorialists muttered and rumbled. Not that anyone had anything in particular against George Washington, a perfectly fine fellow, Father of our Country, all that. The thing was, across the length and breadth of the land, George Washington had 25 bridges named after him already, one of them right here, crossing the Harlem River.
Which, it was observed, you’d think would be plenty enough bridges for anyone.
Swamped by tumult, the Port Authority voted to reconsider. Whereupon its chairman was illumed with democratic ideal: Let, he declared, the people decide.
Ballot boxes accordingly went up en masse on both sides of the river, and all through January and February and March, tens of thousands of citizens cast their votes. The newspapers kept daily running tallies. George Washington was never anywhere close to the front of the pack (though he did fare well in petitions mailed directly to the Port Authority). Hudson River Bridge was always the huge popular favorite, Palisades Bridge trailing behind. There were vigorous boosters of Interstate Bridge and Knickerbocker Bridge. Veterans organizations were solidly behind Admiral Farragut Bridge. Write-ins measurably included Al Smith Bridge and Charles Lindbergh Bridge. Some Brooklyn guy named Levy mounted an earnest campaign for Levy Bridge, but this never got a lot of traction.
Official motorcades start across
the George Washington Bridge
during the dedication ceremonies
in New York City on Oct. 24, 1931.
In April the election results went back to the Port Authority, which — being then, as now, an outfit not called upon to labor under the burden of much in the way of accountability — paid no attention to them at all and voted to go ahead with George Washington Bridge whether anybody liked it or not. Its bridge-naming committee, The New York Times reported, “declined to make public the nature of its decision.”
And so the G.W.B. was formally dedicated a few months later, although most everyone continued to call it the Hudson River Bridge for years yet since that’s what they’d always called it anyway.
Just as, it may be expected, the Queensboro will long remain the Queensboro to many New Yorkers regardless of what the City Council does or does not do in reference to the matter of the Mr. Koch. Bobby Kennedy was a fine fellow too, but who calls the R.F.K. the R.F.K.?
Memo to Hon. Ed: Suggest consider legally changing your name to Edward I. Queensboro. Problem solved.