The renaming of the Triborough Bridge and a recent outing with a group of students to see the Broadway musical In the Heights got me thinking about the bridge that I saw everyday growing up : the George Washington Bridge. My parents lived near Columbia University on Riverside Drive facing the Hudson River, and you could see the GWB from their window. Even as a child, I knew that there was something unmistakable about that bridge, something distinctive about its look. After college, I worked at IBM in White Plains before embarking on a long trip in February of 1984. I was living with my parents, and I remember looking forward to the sight of the bridge as I drove home during late fall and early winter evenings, backlit by the reddish glow of the sun setting behind the Palisades. The light would shine through the criss-crossed bracings of the bridge, and I would drive directly under it on my way to Riverside Drive.
In fact, it’s precisely those bracings that give the George Washington Bridge its distinctive look. Here’s what I just learned: they weren’t intended to be left exposed. The bridge was begun in 1927, and the original plans called for the towers to be encased in granite and concrete. But financial concerns and the fact that many people simply liked the way the exposed steel looked led to a change in plans.
When it opened in 1931, the bridge had one deck and four lines. Two more lanes were added in 1946, and in 1962 the lower deck was opened. People referred to it as “Martha.”
The set of In the Heights features a representation of the bridge as part of its central backdrop. The musical takes place in and around 183rd Street.
If you’re interested in my thoughts on the musical, take a look at this post from The Common Room, the blog of NYU’s University Hall.
[Photo from the New York Times.]