Happy 100th birthday, Jackson Boulevard Bridge!
Loop North News

Chicago River

Photo by Jim Phillips

(Above) Jackson Boulevard Bridge during a 2015 boat run. Photo by Jim Phillips. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

Happy 100th birthday, Jackson Boulevard Bridge!

The Jackson Boulevard Bridge over the Chicago River just south of Willis Tower opened on January 29, 1916, with little fanfare. The designer of the bridge is better known as the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was the first bridge on Route 66 but only until the 1950s. Today, it gets thousands of commuters to work in the Loop each day and at age 100 it is still going strong.

25-Jan-16 – Chicago was under pressure in the early 20th century to replace center-pier swing bridges on the Chicago River and the job was taken on by both the Department of Public Works and the Sanitary District of Chicago.

The Jackson Boulevard Bridge is the fourth and last Loop bridge built by the Sanitary District, now known as Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. The District built Scherzer rolling lift bridges at Randolph, Dearborn, and State Streets. The Jackson bridge is a trunnion bascule bridge – and of the 18 Loop bridges it is the sole surviving Sanitary District bridge.

Joseph Strauss The Strauss Bascule Bridge Company, led by Joseph Strauss (left), was the consulting engineering firm for two Loop bridges – Jackson Boulevard and Lake Shore Drive. The remaining 16 are Chicago-type trunnion bascules designed by the Chicago Public Works Department. Strauss is better known as chief engineer on the Golden Gate Bridge.

The dedication ceremony for the Jackson Boulevard Bridge was a relatively low-key affair. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune published on January 30, 1916, “An automobile loaded with Sanitary District trustees and engineers shot across the new Jackson Boulevard Bridge a few minutes after two o’clock yesterday afternoon, and thereby the new structure was formally dedicated.”

A convoy of 15 cars followed, carrying city employees and automobile club members.

(Right) Jackson Boulevard Bridge in 1916 from Bascule Bridges by J. B. Strauss. 1916 photo of Jackson Boulevard Bridge

The bridge plaque provides the names of most of the organizations responsible for the design and construction of the bridge. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company built the sub-structure and Stroble Steel Construction Company was responsible for the super-structure. The plans were approved by both the Sanitary District and city engineer John Ericson.

The architectural features were designed under the auspices of the Chicago Plan Commission. This is the first Loop bridge to conform fully to the ideals of the 1909 Plan of Chicago. As described in the April 4, 1913, edition of Chicago Daily Tribune, “Under the proposal of the plan commission all the machinery on the bridge will be covered by concrete housings, giving an appearance of solid masonry. Bridge-tender quarters will be so situated as to be invisible to the pedestrian crossing the bridge. Supports for the machinery will rest on the river bottom and will not move with the bridge.”

Until this time, bridge houses were wood-clad structures and the abutments were not normally enclosed with masonry. In addition, the aesthetics of the structural support of the bridge deck were not considered an important part of bridge design prior to the adoption of the 1909 Plan. The plan commission’s ideal bridge had no supporting structure showing above the bridge deck, allowing a clear view of the surrounding area. The Jackson Boulevard Bridge was the first of the single deck Loop bridges to achieve this ideal. The cost of these aesthetic features was $20,000 – the 1915 equivalent of $469,340 – or about 10 percent of the total cost of the bridge.

As with many Loop bridges, the current Jackson bridge was not the first bridge built at this crossing, but it is the longest lasting bridge built there. This bridge replaced a center-pier swing bridge built in 1888.

First bridge on Route 66

Route 66 began at Jackson & Michigan in 1926, making the Jackson Boulevard Bridge the first bridge on the storied highway as it made its way westbound from Chicago. Jackson Boulevard was a two-way street until the mid-1950s when it became one-way eastbound. At that point, Adams Street was made the westbound portion of Route 66 out of the Loop.

Photo by Jim Phillips

(Above) View across the very open deck of the Jackson Boulevard Bridge. Photo by Jim Phillips.

In its first full year, the Jackson Boulevard Bridge was operated about 3,000 times. Today the bridge is operated about 40 times per year, mostly for sailboat runs between dry dock facilities on the south branch of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Because of its proximity to Union Station, pedestrians outnumber vehicles in terms of daily crossings.

The bridge houses have lost some luster over the years, but the Jackson Boulevard Bridge is still handsome and always fun to watch.

 More info: Chicago Loop Bridges

• Contact Jim Phillips at news@loopnorth.com

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