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George Washington Bridge Celebrates 80 Years

24th October 2011

It goes without saying that New Yorkers and residents of the tri-state area are always on the go. Whether it’s in and out of JFK and LaGuardia by plane, running to catch a train or subway, or heading across crowded streets by car or bus, we are constantly on the move. If we’re not on the move, we’re stuck. Probably in bridge traffic.

In a city of over 8 million people, this is not surprising. What is surprising is that there is often little time for contemplation on the history of our roads and bridges and the cultural changes they have created. But today, the George Washington Bridge celebrates 80 years. To honor the engineering feats that created bridges and revolutionized the commerce of New York, the country, and the world, I will offer a short meditation on the “bridge.”

Bridge [brij] noun, verb, bridged, bridg•ing, adjective*

1. A structure spanning and providing passage over a river, chasm, road, or the like.

The best part of the Henry Hudson Parkway is the view. Leading up to the George Washington Bridge is a winding view of trees and river. The Hudson river, which the GWB spans, is breathtaking in all seasons. From the summer when the palisades are ruddy and dry to the fall when the trees burst forth in colors, the sight is not to be missed. As a small child I would strain to see the river itself, full of tugboats and sailboats as we crossed over the bridge.

2. Connecting, transitional, or intermediate route or phase between two adjacent elements, activities, conditions, or the like: Working at the hospital was a bridge between medical school and private practice.

Even though the lives we lead can seem harried or fast-paced, we sometimes need to take time out to focus internally on our well-being. The yoga pose of Setu Bandha Sarvangasana or “Bridge Pose” helps me form an actual bridge of my body to wind down my yoga practice and metaphorically gives me a “bridge” into a calmer place. In our lives, it is just as important for reflection, as well as action.

3. Nautical
a. a raised transverse platform from which a power vessel is navigated: often includes a pilot house and a chart house.
b. any of various other raised platforms from which the navigation or docking of a vessel is supervised.
c. a bridge house or bridge superstructure.
d.a raised walkway running fore-and-aft.

A bridge can refer to the power center of the boat. It is a place to chart and set a course. Often these types of bridges are present on war ships. Not too far from the George Washington Bridge is one of New York’s unique museums. Housed on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, The Intrepid, Sea, Air, and Space Museum has a range of activities, exhibits, and events. The museum also hosts the annual Fleet Week in Manhattan.

4. Anatomy. the ridge or upper line of the nose.

I find this definition applicable to the George Washington Bridge because my mind makes the leap from the George Washington Bridge to another inspiring engineering feat where George Washington is present—Mount Rushmore. The same engineers that made bridges had to have the imagination to see what could be created in a space that nature fully inhabited.

5. Dentistry. an artificial replacement, fixed or removable, of a missing tooth or teeth, supported by natural teeth or roots adjacent to the space.

While this meaning of the word “bridge” does not seem applicable to the bridge that lends itself to transporting the masses, I think it is necessary to note the second half of the definition “supported by …roots adjacent to the space.” It is the roots of immigrant history that have in fact made bridges like the GWB and the Tappan Zee possible.

New York’s Golden Age of Bridges by Antonio Masi and Joan Marans Dim traces the roots of New York’s bridges, but also the stories behind the people who made them possible. Antonio’s grandfather, Francesco Masi, an Italian immigrant helped build the 59th Street (the recently renamed Ed Koch Queensboro) Bridge. Fascinated with bridges his entire life, Antonio has been capturing bridges with his brush for over a decade. Antonio’s work speaks to me, as it may speak to many others. Growing up, I was taught that my great-great grandfather, an Italian immigrant went to Cooper Union and became a painter. His paintings hung in our home, a constant reminder of the roots we have. I think Antonio and Joan’s narrative, accompanied by striking paintings will resonate with many others whose roots lie in a unique, yet collective American experience.

–Katie Sweeney

*Courtesy of