|Bridge Name||Facility Carried / Feature Intersected||Location||Structure Type||Construction Date and Builder/Engineer|
Western Avenue Bridge
||Western Avenue Over Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal||Chicago: Cook County, Illinois||Metal Through Girder, Movable: Vertical Lift (Tower Drive) and Approach Spans: Metal Through Girder, Fixed||1940 By Builder/Contractor: Strobel Steel Construction Company of Chicago, Illinois|
|Rehabilitation Date||Main Span Length||Structure Length||Roadway Width||Main Spans||Approach Spans||NBI Number|
|1942||109 Feet (33.2 Meters)||295 Feet (89.9 Meters)||107.3 Feet (32.7 Meters)||1||2||16605623164|
Few who cross this bridge today and do not know the history of this bridge probably are completely unaware that what looks like a typical, albeit very wide, fixed riveted through plate girder bridge was once an impressive vertical lift bridge. As unbelievable as it may seem, this bridge once had giant trussed towers and the associated mechanical equipment that enabled the central plate girder span to be lifted up, making it one of the widest vertical lift bridges known. Although this bridge was originally constructed as a fixed plate girder bridge, in 1942, the bridge was altered by the addition of towers and machinery that converted the bridge into a vertical lift bridge, to allow the Navy to move boats as part of the ongoing World War II. Unfortunately, all of those elaborate furnishings have once again been removed, leaving behind a very wide fixed plate girder that may in fact be representative of how the bridge appeared when originally built.
As a movable bridge, this bridge has lost all integrity that conveys its function. It is no longer significant as a movable bridge. However if considered for what it is today, a fixed through plate girder, the bridge is noteworthy for its art deco design including concrete pillars and a large and handsome bronze plaque design. Even the original ornate railings remain on the bridge, ironic because many of the movable bridges which retain structural integrity have lost their original railings.
Thanks to Tom Winkle for providing boat transportation to assist in the photo-documentation of this historic bridge.
Description of Bridge Conversion From Chicago's Report To The People, 1933-1946
The advent of war stopped new bridge construction and prevented completion of the State Street and Canal Street bridge projects. Material and manpower shortages made maintenance of existing structures a difficult task. But engineers and men of the Bureau of Bridges and Viaducts carried on with great resourcefulness, maintaining these essential links in the city's system of war production traffic arteries. In addition, they rehabilitated six bridges over the drainage canal which had been inoperative for about fifteen years to permit passage of Navy vessels en route to the Gulf of Mexico.
A notable achievement in this connection was the conversion of a 10-lane fixed bridge on south Western Avenue into a lift bridge. As a fixed bridge, its 21-foot vertical clearance over the sanitary and ship canal was inadequate to permit passage of newly-built war vessels from Great Lakes shipyards to the Gulf of Mexico. Some vessels had been taken through by omitting their superstructures and lowering the canal four feet, but this method had serious drawbacks. In July, 1942, the city entered into a contract with the Navy department for the alteration to be done by the city. The first shipment of steel for the towers arrived at the site on January 22nd. During the next ten weeks - in one of Chicago's coldest winters - the basic job of con- version was done. Trial tests were made on April 4th and on the following day naval vessels passed through the open draw of the reconverted bridge! One of the great aspects of this achievement is the fact that traffic on the ten lanes provided by the 140-foot deck of the crossing - including two street car tracks, and two sidewalks - was not seriously interrupted during the remodeling.
Above: A photo showing the bridge with its lift towers in place and the lift span in raised position.
Above: Photos showing the dedication ceremony following the conversion of the fixed Western Avenue Bridge into a lift bridge.
Above: Photos from 1943 and 1972, respectively, showing the bridge with the lift towers in place.
Main PlaqueFEDERAL WORKS AGENCY
PUBLIC WORKS ADMINISTRATION
JOHN M. CARMODY
FEDERAL WORKS ADMINISTRATOR
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
S. WESTERN AVENUE IMPROVEMENT
BUILT BY THE
CITY OF CHICAGO
EDWARD J. KELLY, MAYOR
BOARD OF LOCAL IMPROVEMENTS
MICHAEL F. MULCAHY, PRESIDENT
WILLIAM W. LINK, VICE PRESIDENT
PAUL H. MUELLER, SECRETRY
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
OSCAR E. HEWITT
DESIGN AND SUPERVISION
M. J. BURKE, RESIDENT ENGINEER
SEC. S. WESTERN AVE - S. A. 055 - 1111 - C. S.
Above: While this is a completed different bridge, it is interesting to note that as late as 1939, there was an impressive, yet narrow through truss that crossed a body of water that was filled in around 1939, after which the bridge was likely demolished. The two photos above show the bridge before and after the fill project.
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Chicago and Cook County are home to one of the largest collections of historic bridges in the country, and no other city in the world has more movable bridges. HistoricBridges.org is proud to offer the most extensive coverage of historic Chicago bridges on the Internet.Chicago / Cook County Bridge News
April 30, 2013 - Illinois Landmarks has included Chicago's Bascule Bridges as one of their Top 10 Most Endangered Historic Places. View The Official Page.
April, 2013 - The replacement of the outer trusses of the northern Wells Street Bridge bascule leaf is underway. The outer trusses of the southern bascule leaf has already been completed.
April 2013 - Spring Bridge Lifts Are Ongoing! The bridge lift schedule is available here.
Chicago's Bridges - By Nathan Holth, author of HistoricBridges.org, this book provides a discussion of the history of Chicago's movable bridges, and includes a virtual tour discussing all movable bridges remaining in Chicago today. The book includes dozens of full color photos. Only $9.95 U.S! ($11.95 Canadian). Order Now Direct From The Publisher!
Chicago Loop Bridges - Chicago Loop Bridges is another website on the Internet that is a great companion to the HistoricBridges.org coverage of the 18 movable bridges within the Chicago Loop. This website includes additional information such as connections to popular culture, overview discussions and essays about Chicago's movable bridges, additional videos, and current news and events relating to the bridges.
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