Even with more than 20 million cars passing north and south each year on the parkway, the Henry Hudson Bridge does not enjoy a lot of attention. Running roughly parallel to the Amtrak swing bridge and the Hudson River, this link between Manhattan and the Bronx is barely known outside its own neighborhood.From my terrace and from under the bridge at the Spuyten Duyvil commuter rail stop, I have watched the recent painting and repair with a fascination bordering on obsession, photographing the structure almost daily.

It was dark blue back in 1995, when I moved to Riverdale. One winter morning, while waiting for the 8:13, I photographed the bridge in snow, which ended up winning first prize in a local juried show, sponsored by the Riverdale Art Association.

Today the structure, originally conceived as the "the Hendrick Hudson Memorial Bridge," is a light bluish-gray, after recent painting and renovations. Hendrick's bridge has changed colors from its original dark green a few times. The last color, a medium blue, was used supposedly to help the bridge blend more with the dark waters of the Harlem River.

From 2003 to 2005, the lead paint was painstakingly and noisily blasted away, protected from polluting air and water with massive equipment and a shroud of thick plastic, which moved from section to section every few months.

Two years to paint a bridge sounds like a lot, but most delays were due to bad weather, and a lengthy complex process of stripping, painting and structural repair and reinforcement. The paint job should last about 15 years The bridge was last painted in 1989.

This June will mark the 70th year since the beginning of construction in 1935. The 70th anniversary of the bridge's opening will come in December of 2006. But the Henry Hudson Bridge's origins go back for decades before its construction.

Around the turn of the century, reasons given for constructing a bridge at the present location included relieving the traffic that tended to clog the Broadway Bridge, which crossed from Manhattan into the Bronx.

Back in 1906, Scientific American magazine published a design for a proposed bridge that would be constructed "where the Harlem River Ship Canal meets the Hudson River, near a cove in the [then] Spuyten Duyvil Creek" near the spot where it was said one of Henry Hudson's longboats, the Half Moon, landed to trade with the Indians.* Or at least those native Americans who had lived on those riverbanks for generations.

The proposed bridge was to be completed by 1909, and was to open to commemorate the 300-year anniversary of the Half Moon's reputed landing.

The designer was a young Columbia engineering student named David Steinman, who's career spanned decades of bridge-building projects, including a redesign of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Henry Hudson's original design was to include a massive statue of Henry Hudson and classical masonry arches flanking an immense steel span. A "Hudson-Fulton Celebration" was planned for 1909 to commemorate both the anniversary of Hudson's upriver voyage, as well as the 1807 maiden voyage of Robert Fulton's first steamboat, the Claremont. *Per James Renner 8/03 -

The original plans were to build a 270' high, 80' wide, 2870' long bridge to accommodate four rapid transit rail tracks on the lower lever and carriage/automobile traffic on an upper deck. The bridge was to take four years and cost about $4 million to build. Unfortunately, the construction project was shelved, and until the 1930s, remained an engineer's dream.

In 1930, during LaGuardia years in New York, Robert Moses, the commissioner of Parks and Arterial Facilities, proposed a plan for a Henry Hudson Parkway to run from Manhattan's west side northward, meeting the Bronx/Westchester line at the Sawmill Parkway. As part of this ambitious project, conceived during the Great Depression no less, was a Henry Hudson Bridge that could be financed and constructed to span the waterway at Spuyten Duyvil.

The new bridge would be based on Steinman's original design, the thesis for his Ph. D. from Columbia University, published in 1911 as "The Design for the Henry Hudson Memorial Bridge as a Steel Arch;" almost 30 years later he built the bridge he had planned as a much younger man.

The ultimate location of the bridge was upsetting to some Spuyten Duvil residents, who feared the bridge would bring an end to the last of Manhattan's "wild" lands. One opened, it was denounced by many Bronx residents and civic groups, worried about the area's loss of isolation and natural beauty.

To finance the bridge in uncertain times, Moses secured an unprecedented amount of Federal funds for park improvements and conservation, and also sold bonds to skeptical bankers, as well as swapping land and borrowing funds from other city projects. Robt. A. Caro "the Power Broker: Robt. Moses & the Fall of NY- Vintage Press 1975

The plans favored by many urban planners routed the bridge approaches from from Ft. Tryon, then swinging eastward to possibly parallel the existing Broadway bridge, instead of right at the Hudson River, where it was originally planned.
Moses pointed out that changing the route to its present one, would reduce construction from $15 to $10 million, which was easier to pitch to Wall Street.

According to Moses' final plan, the bridge was to cost $10Mil of the entire $109M Henry Hudson Parkway project.To help make financing more palatable, Moses planned the bridge to be at first only a single deck, 4-lane bridge, but left the option to build and open a second deck if traffic required.

In June of 1935, construction started, and took a year and a half to build, less time than the most recent repainting! When opened on December 12, 1936, the Henry Hudson Bridge was the largest plate girder, fixed arch bridge in the U.S. The stats are impressive: the main span is 840' long and reaches a maximum vertical height of 143'. Amount of structural steel in the main arch, 4500 tons, along with the side spans consisting of another 4000 tons, are all reinforced by 950 tons of additional steel. The bridge's original color was forest green to blend with surrounding geography.

During the bridge's opening ceremony on that chilly day, Mayor LaGuardia mentioned to Robert Moses that he would be interrupting the ceremony to hear a rebroadcast of England's King Edward VIII's abdication speech! This infuriated Moses, forcing LaGuardia to continue, who of course missed the speech.

During the first weekend, over 10,000 vehicles crossed the bridge, and on December 20th, almost 16,000 used it. Traffic exceeded even Moses' expectations, so the upper level was constructed and completed in 1938, adding three lanes to the lower level's existing four. An interesting note is that the total cost of building the bridge, even after the additional deck, was only $4.95 million, much lower than Moses' proposed budget!

From 1937 to 1938, 17,000 vehicles paid 10-cents each to cross, despite the nearby and free Broadway Bridge. Today, over 75,000 vehicles a day cross the span. Many feel the bridge was responsible for the real estate boom that came to Riverdale, which, before the 1930s, had been more of a small village than part of New York city.

From Inwood Park's sloping banks to Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale, the Henry Hudson Bridge has been touched not only by the lives of Steinman, Moses, and LaGuardia, not to mention King Edward VIII, but also by all New Yorkers.

Michael Cohen
Riverdale, NY

About Designer/Engineer David B. Steinman:
Born June 11, 1886, New York City
Died August 21, 1960, New York City
American engineer whose studies of airflow and wind
velocity helped make possible the design of
aerodynamically stable bridges.

David Barnard Steinman (1886-1960) was educated at
City College of New York and Columbia University. His
design and construction work included the Mackinac
Bridge (1953-57), reconstruction of the Brooklyn
Bridge (1948-1954), the Kingston Bridge (1952-1956)
and also the Sky-Ride and Observation Towers at the
Century of Progress Exposition of 1933. He was the
author of numerous popular and technical books about
bridges, including a biography of Roebling. (Who Was
Who in America, v. 4, 1968)

Side note -: David Steinman and the Brooklyn Bridge:
Between 1944 and 1954, noted bridge engineer David
Steinman oversaw a comprehensive reconstruction
project that saw the inner and outer trusses
strengthened, new horizontal stays installed between
the four main cables, the railroad and trolley tracks
removed, the roadways widened from two lanes to three
lanes in each direction, and new approach ramps
constructed. (Additional approach ramps to the FDR
Drive opened to traffic in 1969.)