This week’s photo takes us back to Flushing Creek with the only double-decker drawbridge in the city that crosses over a highway. From the collection at the city’s Department of Records, we have the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge circa 1939-1940 and to offer context, a Google Street View of the same scene today.
The Van Wyck Expressway was looped beneath the bridge in 1961. Needless to day, the bridge hasn’t been lifted since then, but if you know of a drawbridge that is lifted for anything that isn’t a waterborne vessel, by all means, let me know.
Prior to 1927, there were only two roads that crossed Flushing Creek on its course between Head of the Vleigh and Flushing Bay, Strong’s Causeway (present-day Long Island Expressway) and the Northern Boulevard Bridge. Additionally, there were also two rail lines across the creek, the Port Washington Branch and the Whitestone Branch, which was abandoned in 1932. The construction of Roosevelt Avenue Bridge was part of the project that extended the 7 subway line to its terminus at Flushing-Main Street.
Shayna Marchese and Doug Ensel‘s encyclopedic blog Bridges of NYC does for the city’s bridges (and beyond) what my book does for its streams- documenting them in detail. Their page on Roosevelt Avenue Bridge has all the information on its cost, width, length, clearance and history.
The drawbridge design was the result of an order from the federal War Department, which kept in mind the stream’s possible expansion into a seaport or a Flushing-Jamaica canal. In a way, it resembles another War Department-related crossing, the Kosciuszko Bridge at Newtown Creek, which is so tall, could one really imagine a vessel with the width of a tugboat and the height of a high-rise building passing beneath it? (the clearance is 125 feet in height and 300 in width) The folks in Washington imagined the most extreme possibilities when approving bridges in the city.
As Shayna Marchese reports, this bridge’s purpose was very short-lived:
“The final cost of the bridge was $2,640,000, more than the estimated cost of a tunnel under the river, even when adjusted for inflation. Despite the additional cost the city was required to pay for a movable bridge, the need to keep the river open to navigation did not last long. When construction of Flushing Meadows Park was under way in 1939, park engineers realized a dam was needed to keep the tides of the East River from inundating the low-lying fields.”
In preparation for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair, the lift bridge used by the Port Washington Branch, a few feet upstream from Roosevelt Avenue was transformed into a dam that blocked navigation on Flushing Creek. On the shot below looking north from Flushing Meadows, the black line indicates the dam across Flushing Creek. Roosevelt Avenue Bridge is in the background.
With no large docks on the stream between the railroad’s dam and Roosevelt Avenue, the drawbridge had effectively become pointless just 12 years after its completion. In 1961, the Van Wyck Expressway was extended north from the Kew Gardens Interchange towards Whitestone Expressway. With Flushing River unused by vessels and its drawbridge in a fixed position since the 1939 World’s Fair, the highway was routed beneath the bridge and the bridge operators’ cabins were abandoned.
Going back to the city’s historic photos of the bridge, photographer Eugene de Salignac went into extreme detail here, taking close-ups of the bridge’s switches, during construction, in lift position, and its first Bridge Chauffeur (yes, that’s his job title) Jim Conner. My favorite here is the shot taken inside Mr. Conners’ office, where you can see an April 1928 calendar, a phone with a listening horn, and a clock ( 1:25p.m.).
A note on outside photographers and copyrights:
De Salignac (1861-1943) lived in the same period as Berenice Abbott and Percy Loomis Sperr, photographers who documented the development of the city in the first third of the twentieth Century. A humble city worker, his vast trove belongs to the Municipal Archives, but finally in 2007, his works appeared on exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York and in a book. The photos are watermarked and require permission for outside use. It’s best to avoid posting them here which is why there are hyperlinks above for his Roosevelt Avenue Bridge photos.
Thankfully, NYPL’s collection has a Sperr photo of the bridge that the public can share… with attribution of course.
As always, photos not taken by me can be clicked on, which takes readers to their original web page. Additionally, I encourage readers to look into the books and blogs that I’ve relied on as references for my work. I’m also happy to promote fellow authors (living or deceased) whose works helped me better understand the hidden streams of the city.
Roosevelt Avenue Bridge is currently being reconstructed by the city Department of Transportation and will include a wider sidewalk for pedestrians taking the walk between downtown Flushing and Citi Field.