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Spokane celebrates the opening of the reconstructed Monroe Street Bridge beginning on September 16, 2005.

HistoryLink.org Essay 7668 : Printer-Friendly Format

On the weekend of September 16-18, 2005, Spokane celebrates the opening of the reconstructed Monroe Street Bridge, which spans the dramatic Spokane River gorge. The new bridge faithfully replicates the venerable third bridge to stand on the site, which at the time of its opening in 1911, was the longest concrete-arch bridge in the United States. The reconstruction, with the same graceful arches, remains a marvel of beauty and functionality, “a major transportation link and a revered symbol of our community” ("Bridging the Past ...," Spokesman-Review), and “Spokane’s premier character-defining landmark” (Holstine and Hobbs). The reconstruction retains the aesthetic elements of the earlier bridge, while improving strength and safety for a long future of heavy use.

The third Monroe Street Bridge replaced a steel bridge, which in turn had replaced a wooden bridge built in 1890. The concrete-arch bridge opened to acclaim on November 23, 1911. It was both spectacular and functional, and truly represented a home grown achievement: City engineers designed it and supervised its construction, the local architectural firm of Kirtland Cutter and Karl Malmgren provided the elaborate ornamentation, and Spokane day-labor crews built it. More than 3,000 people attended the opening.

By the 1990s the beautiful and iconic bridge was deteriorating so badly that frequent repairs no longer sufficed to keep it viable. A new bridge was needed, but “saving [the original] wasn’t always the idea; in fact, for quite some years the idea was to replace the current bridge” (Compau, 1).

Fortunately, community consensus eventually favored a replica or rehabilitation rather than a new design. In January 2003, the bridge was closed for restoration under the engineering and construction management firm of David Evans and Associates. Spokane watched, fascinated, as the old bridge was dismantled and the new rose in its place. The new bridge looks like the old, with the same overall design and with the Cutter and Malmgren ornaments faithfully replicated. The improved pedestrian walkways still provide unsurpassed viewing points for the spectacular falls of the Spokane River.

The reconstructed bridge has human as well as aesthetic and structural ties to the original. Stephen Shrope, engineer of record for the project, declared: “This is much more personal [than other jobs]. I’m a Spokane boy. My grandparents were here and alive when it [the 1911 bridge] was built” (Spokesman-Review, September 17, 2005). Thus, the new Monroe Street Bridge spans not only the river but also the generations. It is basically the same beloved bridge, but better, with an anticipated lifetime of at least 75 years.

Charles V. Mutschler, Spokane's Street Railways (Spokane: Inland Empire Railway Historical Society, 1987), 31; Byron Barber, “The Golden Era of Bridgebuilding,” (Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 28, No. 1, Winter, 1984), 3-7; “Bridge Builder Amazed By City,” Spokesman-Review, August 22, 1951; “Bridging Generations,” Spokesman-Review, September 17, 2005, Sec. O, pp. 1-8; “Bridging the Past to the Future,” Spokesman-Review, Special Supplement, September 11, 2005, pp. 1-8; Nancy Gale Compau, History of the Monroe Street Bridges: 1889 to Rehabilitation in 2005 (Spokane: Historic Preservation Advocates, 2005); Craig Holstine and Richard Hobbs, Spanning Washington: Historic Highway Bridges of the Evergreen State (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 2005), 124-128; Craig Holstine, "Spokane Register of Historic Places Nomination Form," Spokane: City/County Historic Landmarks Commission, 1990; Henry Matthews, Kirtland Cutter: Architect in the Land of Promise (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998), 258-259; National Register of Historic Places website accessed February 14, 2006 (http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/research/nrs.htm); Spokane Historic Preservation Office website, accessed February 14, 2006 (http://www.historicspokane.org). See also “Historic Spokane Bridge Rebuilt,” Pacific Builder and Engineer, September 6, 2004, pp. 10-11.

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Reconstructed Monroe Street Bridge, Spokane, April 14, 2006
Photo by David Wilma

Monroe Street Bridge (1911, 2005), Spokane, April 17, 2006
HistoryLink.org Photo by Paula Becker

Monroe Street Bridge (1911, 2005), Spokane, April 17, 2006
Photo by Paula Becker

Ornamentation detail, Monroe Street Bridge (2005), Spokane, April 17, 2006
HistoryLink.org Photo by Paula Becker

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