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Spanning the years: the Manhattan Bridge at 100

The youngest of the four East River bridges is a fully-fledged golden oldie.

Manhattan Bridge celebrated its 100th birthday with a rollicking celebration, capped by a firework display, a parade of historic vehicles, walking and bike tours, plus lots of public chit-chat on the history and construction of the world famous viaduct.

Festivities drew a horde of visitors to the 1,470-foot suspension bridge, which connects Brooklyn at the Flatbush Avenue Extension to Lower Manhattan at Canal Street, and which made its heralded debut on December 31, 1909.

Designed and built by Polish bridge engineer Ralph Modjeski, with the deflection cables designed by Leon Moisseiff, the Manhattan Bridge has long experienced aging pains due to being “under built.”

Moisseiff, who later designed the notorious original Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which opened and collapsed in 1940, assumed that the inherent structure of suspension bridges made them stronger and decided against using stiffening trusses, such as those utilized on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Subway and street car lines placed on the outer edges of the roadway and poor maintenance compounded the problem until the 1980s when a major reconstruction project was implemented, continuing until 2007.

Although not as grand, nor as celebrated, as its Brooklyn counterpart, the Manhattan Bridge makes its own imposing public art statement along the Manhattan entranceway with a stone archway modeled after the Porte St. Denis in Paris, France. Its Brooklyn approach once included two statues by Daniel Chester French, meant to be allegorical figures of Brooklyn and Manhattan, but were dismantled in the 1960s to facilitate traffic. They are now on display at the Brooklyn Museum.

“In many ways, more than the other East River bridges, the Manhattan Bridge shows that design, construction and maintenance are human practices that require review and care,” said Sam Schwartz, president of the New York City Bridge Centennial Commission, which organized the celebration.

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