The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for October 3rd, 2012

subsidiary impression

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

You see it all the time, here at your Newtown Pentacle. The Bayonne Bridge, deemed an archaic impediment to navigation by those scions of NY harbor whose hidden machinations are confined to secretive board room meetings at Port Authority and the NYC EDC, is often used as a frame for tugboat shots by your humble narrator. Othman Amman’s second masterpiece (after Hellgate), the bridge is destined to be altered shortly. Accordingly, a group of enthusiasts, antiquarians, and weirdos were gathered one fine September morning to walk across it.

from a Newtown Pentacle posting of June 26, 2009

The fourth largest steel arch bridge on Earth with a height of 150 feet over the water, it connects Bayonne, New Jersey’s Chemical Coastline with Staten Island. It’s primary mission is to allow vehicular traffic access to Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel…

The Bayonne Bridge was designed by a man who helped design the Hell Gate rail bridge on the East river- and was principal designer for the Verrazano bridge over the Narrows, The George Washingston Bridgeover the Hudson River, the Bronx Whitestone Bridge over the East River, the Throgs Neck Bridge over the East River. He was brought in to simplify the design of mighty Triborough– which is actually a bridge and highway complex spanning multiple waterways and islands. A swede Swiss, Othmar Amman worked for Gustavus Lindenthal (designer of the the Queensboro and Hell Gate Bridges), and took over as head bridge engineer at the New York Port Authority in 1925. He also directed the planning and construction of the the Lincoln Tunnel.

He was Robert Moses’s “guy”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We came to… Staten Island… via the ferry, and accessed a bus which took us to a less than savory section of the forgotten borough adjoining the bridge. There, the walkway was gained and off we went. Amongst our number was Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY fame, my aide de camp and far eastern correspondent Armstrong, as well as our railroad expert, and a certain lady who knows that all that glitters is gold. Stairway to heaven, indeed.


Initially, the bridge was planned for motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians only. Accordingly, a suspension bridge design was developed since this type of bridge offered the most economical way to engineer a single span across the Kill Van Kull for motor vehicles. However, the suspension scheme was abandoned when the Port Authority commissioners insisted that considerations be made for at least two rail transit tracks to be added at some future date. (Studies showed that adapting a suspension design for rail traffic would be cost-prohibitive.) With rail traffic in mind, the bridge’s chief designer, Othmar H. Ammann, began developing a scheme that spanned the Kill Van Kull with a single, innovative, arch-shaped truss. As with the suspension bridge scheme, Ammann worked on the arch design in partnership with architect Cass Gilbert. The arch bridge that emerged promised to be a remarkably efficient solution, well suited to the site from both an engineering and aesthetic standpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the thrice damned Kosciuszko Bridge over my beloved Newtown Creek, Bayonne Bridge is a relict of an earlier age with a less than bright future. Public fortunes will be spent on reengineering it to fit the needs of private commercial interests. Government sources describe a scenario in which the arch itself will remain unaltered, but that the road which it carries will be obliterated and replaced. Increasingly important to accomplish the walk before this happened, we ignored the signs along the walkway adjuring against suicide and left… Staten Island… for New Jersey to see what could be seen. More to come…

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

%d bloggers like this: