Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rowers are Great Artists, Too: Crew Teams Leave Creative Evidence That They Rowed Tampa's Hillsborough River



The Laurel Street Bridge in Tampa was constructed in 1926 and is a “pony truss bascule style that pivots” from one side of the river's bank. This extremely colorful old concrete building, which houses the mechanical works, lies under and on the west side of the span. (If there are any bridge engineers out there you are welcome to chime in with a more accurate explanation of how it works.) Suffice it to say the bridge is over 80 years old and has seen everything in its day from sailing vessels hauling goods for unloading onto Tampa’s docks to today’s million dollar pleasure craft gliding under its steel span. Of course the traffic on top has been just as interesting and indicative of the vast changes we have seen in automotive design and technology since the first Model A crossed over the river. But through all the years the Laurel Street Bridge has withstood every test we could throw at it, including nature’s wrath of storms, flooding, the constant sun and deterioration caused by pollution in the air and water. The fact that it's still standing is a testament to its design, construction and constant maintenance. I realize I am not showing the entire bridge because the most fascinating parts of all of the bridges that cross the Hillsborough River in Tampa’s downtown are the works of art on the sides and foundations left behind by our friends on college and university (even a few high school) rowing teams. The art may have started to appear as early as the 1940s when the University of Tampa, which fronts the Hillsborough River, began its first crew team. The university crews began arriving back then and are here from January to March each year. Teams come to train from Princeton, Yale, Rutgers, Dartmouth and other colleges. And if you look, they have left reminders that they were here. Year after year. So it isn’t a recent rash of vandalism or overly-enthusiastic graffiti artists come to life. As you study the designs and messages, and before you dismiss these spray-painted and brushed-on tags as graffiti, just know that even the new Tampa Bay History Center (which I featured in yesterday’s post at Tampa Florida Photo) has taken more than casual notice of this artistic explosion on our river’s bridges. On its third floor is a wall-size exhibit featuring one of the bridges and the art left behind by the nation’s rowing teams. Many crew teams come to Tampa to train on our river and channels during the winter months when it is very cold up north. It must be a favorite place for the teams who use the facilities on the riverfront. (It's even hot and sunny at Christmas!) The men’s and women’s teams work very hard to perfect their technique and also find time to enjoy Tampa, Ybor City and our nearby Gulf beaches (if they can escape their coaches that long.) But, apparently one activity they will always find time for is leaving evidence that they were here. These talented kids, great athletes all, have to be fast, creative and in some case, nimble daredevils to hang and suspend from bridges and seawalls to get their design and message just right. It must be visible to every other school’s team that rows by after they leave. Whether it’s called urban art, school insignia or just plain graffiti, it is an important part of who we are as a city and some part of us should be proud that students from many of our nation’s top colleges and universities want to be remembered for having crewed in Tampa. I’m all for celebrating that achievement with them. (Plus, their artwork will always make for great photography.)

7 comments:

Lois said...

Very nice shot Frank. What a great tradition!

Mo said...

Interesting that many think grafitti is a modern phenomenon but I have learned here that it was around in prehistoric times. Some things change and some dont

Jacob said...

I guess this is sort of like carving your initials into a tree...

Craziness!

Super photo!

Don and Krise said...

It's all about the camaraderie and team spirit. I think it's what gives the area some of it's character. Great story and photo Frank.

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Dan said...

Frank, I've created an illustration on how the Laurel Street bridge works. See my website at http://www.tampapix.com/fortune.htm, about halfway down the page there's a some photos of the bridge-tender house and workings of the bridge. One photo has a mouseover effect that shows illustration. -Dan

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