Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Railroad bridge or work of great modern art?
The Cass Street Bridge, 500 feet in length and built in 1926 at a cost of $400,000, was added as a river crossing to relieve some traffic on the Lafayette, later named, Kennedy Street Bridge. It connected Tampa’s main downtown with West Tampa. It is closed for 8-months for structural repairs and should reopen in October. (After state inspection it was found to be “structurally deficient.”) The railroad bridge, which is shown in the open position, sits beside the Cass Street Bridge; it was constructed in 1915. The bridge allowed railcars to travel south from Tampa’s downtown area, across the Hillsborough River, to Port Tampa. The street and bridge were named for General Lewis Cass. As interesting as a railroad bridge may be, the man who the street was named for is far more interesting if you love history. Until I took this shot I had no idea who Cass was. Born in 1782, during our struggle for independence from England, Cass served as a military officer, governor of the Michigan territory, United States Senator representing the state of Michigan, Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson, and Ambassador to France. My guess is the street was named for him because of his post as secretary of war and the Indian Removal policy that was a major issue at that time. He ran for president on the Democrat party ticket in 1848, but lost the election to Zachary Taylor. From 1857 until 1860, when Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, he served as Secretary of State under President James Buchanan. He died in 1866.
The bridge, named for such an accomplished politician and statesman, has acquired a brilliant, unusual and un-statesmanlike patina. I think much of the color and decoration has been added over the years by our illustrious university and college crew teams who row up and down this stretch of the river in their skulls. I featured the Laurel Street Bridge on June 23 that showcased some of their wild and extremely colorful and creative crew art. The Laurel Street and Cass Street Bridges, and this railroad bridge, are all listed as Historic Bridges of the United States.
This bridge is called the ACL Bridge because it was built to carry the trains of the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. For bridge engineering fans out there, it is a “truss bascule” design; as we less educated should know, that refers to the large, weighted portion raised up on the right side (that looks to be a very large canvas and amazing work of modern art.) These giant weights act as a counterweight to the bridge span and continuously balance it as it is raised to allow boats to go through. (Bascule is French for seesaw and balance.) According to the bridge design sites, this is the most common type of movable bridge. The Laurel Street Bridge, just up the river from Cass Street, is also a bascule design.
If any of you are movie fans, and are real good at your trivia, the 2004 movie “The Punisher” was filmed in Tampa. It starred John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Roy Scheider and Thomas Jane as the Punisher. Part of the car chase scenes were filmed on the Cass Street Bridge.
As construction of the new Tampa Museum of Art nears completion, it’s fitting that a modern masterpiece – the sides of the counterweights for the bridge - might be within a few yards of the blank exhibit walls of the new museum. I wonder if they have contemplated featuring them in a show. It could be quite a blockbuster. (Or at least it would certainly be talked about.)