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Memorial Bridge: 1931

Washington, D.C., circa 1931. "Construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge over Potomac River." Acetate negative by Theodor Horydczak. View full size.

Washington, D.C., circa 1931. "Construction of Arlington Memorial Bridge over Potomac River." Acetate negative by Theodor Horydczak. View full size.


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D.C. Sojourn

My wife and I are visiting Washington this week and we walked over this bridge last night around sunset. With the gold bridge statues and the Lincoln Memorial behind them, it was quite a sight. The whole D.C. experience is very emotional, as DJ noted. It is my wife's first visit to her adopted country's capital and it has been an incredible experience for her. Thanks for the prompting, Dave, it was your comment that got me out of NYC and down to D.C.

Open and Shut

The draw span for Memorial Bridge was welded shut about forty years ago. The bridge no longer opens.

Massive Project

As noted by other commenters below, I had no clue that this bridge contained a moveable lift section in the middle. It is a testament to the beautiful design that such basic functionality could be so well disguised.

Not to nitpick, but since Hoover witnessed the spans raising at the time of the following article (January 1931), I would venture that the date of this photo is more likely to be circa 1930.

Washington Post, Jan 23, 1931

Hoover and Party Inspect New Span

Workings of Arlington Bridge Viewed by Officials,
With Grant as Guide

President Hoover yesterday inspected the nearly completed memorial bridge which spans the Potomac River between the Lincoln Memorial and the Robert E. Lee home in the Arlington National Cemetery.

He was accompanied by Vice President Curtis, Speaker Longworth, Lieut. Col. U.S. Grant 3d and others connected with the huge project.

The President stood in the middle of the bridge and watched the giant spans operated. Then he went to the control rooms of the bridge to watch the machinery slowly and soundlessly lower the two giant leaves of the bascule bridge.

The control rooms are in the central pier of the bridge, partly below the water line of the river. They are reached by a stairway leading down from the bridge surface. The President and the inspection group then waled to the Virginia side, where the bridge enters the Arlington Cemetery, athte base of the hill on which the Lee mansion stands.

After the inspection the President returned to his desk at the White House. His only comment on the trip was, "It is a massive project."

Who Knew?

As an area resident, I consider myself pretty well up to speed on lots of the trivial parts of DC, but I can't say I knew Memorial Bridge could open. There's a great shot at the LOC website.

Wear good shoes...

Geezer, you will be stunned. I did just the same thing last week. The city -- especially the Mall and surroundings -- is incredibly walkable. No matter who is temporarily occupying those iconic buildings, the history, majesty, power, and beauty of DC was overwhelming--especially at and after sundown. I was a bit unprepared for the emotions I experienced. I wish every citizen could spend a day there at least once in their life.

See for myself

That does it. My bride and I just talked it over and we're going to DC in two weeks to walk over this bridge and then spend a week wandering around and filling big gaps in our knowledge of our nation's capital. Dave, it was your reply to my comment that did it. I'm an American; I should have recognized the Lincoln Memorial.

Up and Down

This is the draw span under construction. The Potomac was navigable to Georgetown, north of Memorial Bridge. Until the Roosevelt Bridge was built upstream, Memorial would be opened for river traffic. There was an oil dock in Rosslyn across the river from Georgetown where coastal tankers would make deliveries through the '50s.

Like a Rock

Looks like a proper stone bridge when you cross it.

Watergate concert

When I was stationed there in the late 1950's those watergate steps were used for musical concerts. A barge was placed at the foot of the steps for the stage. Having very little money in those days, my wife and I were very appreciative of what we were able to observe for free. The entertainment was first-rate. The airplanes flying into Washington National were very noisy but we loved it.

Views from the bridge

Crossing the bridge in to DC you see a beautiful view of the Lincoln Memorial, crossing in to Virginia you see the old Lee mansion. It's even better at night, and makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Giant Steps

The steps are so still there, past the Watergate Hotel, Kennedy Center and the volleyball courts. They're used most often now by folks adding a little more aerobics to their jog. I've always wanted to know their purpose.

[They are the "water gate" that the Watergate is named after. - Dave]

Really built

So wonderfully built, it should have been named the Thisbe Memorial Bridge.

The Drawbridge of Dignitaries

At the time of the Memorial Bridge's design, planners anticipated a dock for berthing the ocean-going ships of foreign dignitaries visiting Washington, D.C. Such ships would ply their way up the Potomac River and through the drawbridge span, shown in detail here. Immediately upstream of the bridge was a dock featuring a sweeping array of steps on the river's eastern bank up to the Lincoln Memorial. This dock was seldom if ever used, and is now gone. The steps are still there, however, serving as the extreme western limit of the Mall.

[Steps perhaps better known as the Watergate. - Dave]

Bridge on the River Potomac

Beautiful shot. It gives a look at construction methods of the day. I love the perspective given by the three guys under the bridge. Do any DC Shorpsters know the building on the left edge of the frame?

[It's the Lincoln Memorial. Next up for identification: That big building down the street with the humongous dome. - Dave]

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