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.)

11 comments:

Vogon Poet said...

You are right about this bridge: it would perfect for an art museum, much better of some contemporary art 'installations' around the world.
I have to ask my son The Punisher to see it again, now that I know a little more of Tampa.

ChrisC and JonJ said...

It would make great art.Better than some of that "stuff they call art" on Bayshore.

Jacob said...

More fascinating history! And an excellent photograph! I thought for a moment this was the bridge you posted awhile back. I guess the college students are getting extra credit for their art work.

Frank said...

VP: The Punisher was filmed all over Tampa and the nightclub scenes were all filmed right near our riverfront and the new Tampa Museum of Art. It was fun to see how they used different locations.

JACOB: Every sea wall and bridge on the river has been adorned. (A replica of a crew-decorated wall is in our new Tampa Bay History Center.)

Don and Krise said...

I too, immediately remembered your previous post about the college rowers and their painting skills. Another great post with deep history. Are there plans to sandblast and repaint, or are they going to leave the existing art?

Frank said...

Don and Krise: Although there has been talk of removing the crew tag art(or graffiti) it appears it will all remain as a part of who the city is...many people think because other more famous American riverfronts are also covered with the same kind of artwork that it enhances our waterfront.

Hilda said...

I find it both odd and wonderful that your old railroad bridges are being painted to be works of art too. It's a nod to their history and utility, and a great way to brighten them up and improve their local neighborhoods.

Lois said...

I do enjoy the history you provide with your pictures Frank. This is as good a work of art as some of the pieces I have seen around here!

brattcat said...

I'm so glad to know this 'art' will be preserved. The photo is excellent, Frank.

Virginia said...

Great blog you have h ere. I love the Gulf coast and Tampa's a great city. Thanks for your visit to my Paris blog. Come visit Birmingham DP sometime too. I'll be back.
V

PS There's some mighty weird "dye jobs" in Paris, too.

Frank said...

Virginia: I suspect you're not referring to tie-dye. As long as there isn't something piecing a tongue or eyelash I can overlook it. Paris even has American hip-hop fashion. I almost died when I saw what looked to kids hanging out in a ball count in Chicago but it was Paris!!