Three bridges receive protection
ON OCT. 28, THE CITY’S HISTORIC DISTRICTS REVIEW BOARD ACTED QUICKLY ON A TRIO OF PROPOSALS FROM THE OLD SANTA FE ASSOCIATION. The H-Board designated three downtown bridges as historically “significant,” the highest level of protection after the “landmark” status that is held by just a few structures such as Rosario Chapel and the Gross Kelly Warehouse. Newly designated are the 1934Don Gaspar Bridge and the 1928 Delgado Street Bridge over the Santa Fe River, and the 1920 Bridge of the Hidalgos over the Arroyo Mascaras.
“This move of ours was meant as a proactive move to place the bridges under enhanced protection in order to be a step ahead of [Santa Fe’s Department of] Public Works, should they be desirous in the future of demolition and widening, as was the case with the Defouri Street Bridge,” said OSFA board member John Eddy.
The H-Board was presented with a Historic Cultural Property Inventory for each bridge. The reports, by architectural historian John W. Murphey, First Light Consulting, are full of fascinating detail, a fraction of which is presented here.
The precedents of the Don Gaspar Bridge/El Puente de Los Conquistadores include a wooden span and then a stone arch bridge that was constructed efficiently in 1902 using convict labor. It was adequate until traffic from both residents and tourists in the late 1920s began to overwhelm its narrow roadway. After crews removed the old, stone bridge, they put up special “cribbing” formwork along the outer edge of the spandrel walls, assembled an intricate frame of reinforced steel, then poured the concrete floor.
The bridge’s construction was related to a New Deal program to improve municipal transportation during the Great Depression. It was built with a wide roadway to relieve congestion at the College Street — now Old Santa Fe Trail — intersection a block or two east. (That width, and its de- signed ability to carry a 15-ton live load, are reasons why the bridge has served the city well for more than 80 years.)
The bridge, of rigid-frame design, was supposed to harmonize “with the Spanish type of architecture peculiar to this vicinity.” Murphey said the parapet or railing was designed by architect Trent Thomas (who also worked with Isaac Rapp on La Fonda and with Carlos Vierra on the artist’s own house in the second decade of the 20th century). “Even though it doesn’t look like much to the uneducated eye, it’s kind of important because it might be the only Spanish Pueblo Revival bridge,” he said with a laugh. “It’s quite heavy and parapet like, like a Spanish-Pueblo building; it just doesn’t have windows.”
A letter to the state highway engineer from the journal Engineering News-Record praised the bridge as “one of the best examples of indigenous architecture that has come to our attention.” Murphey wrote that the bridge “continued to play an important role as the gateway between the old downtown and the evolving capitol district and automobile suburbs south of the river.” He added that all Santa Fe bridges since “are of the graceful rigid-frame design, proving the permanence and influence of New Mexico’s first rigid-frame bridge.”
The story of the Delgado Street Bridge begins with a report of a September 1904 flood that swept away several Santa Fe River bridges, including one at Delgado Street. It would be nearly a quarter of a century before the Santa Fe County government found the funds, and summoned the motivation, to replace it. Murphey details the ups and downs of its planning, but a new bridge became more of a priority in the midst of the city’s population doubling between 1910 and 1930.
A concrete deck-girder design was chosen. Unlike earlier bridges over the river, this type “permitted an unsupported span, free of a pier that could catch debris during flooding. The selected hand railing was a sturdy post-and-rail design. Signifying the urban ambition of the program, the posts and rails were enhanced with recessed stamped panels and chamfered edges. Following the aesthetic of urban bridges of the period, the railing continued beyond the deck, tracing the radii of the wingwalls to create a gateway-like approach.”
The Delgado Street Bridge is the city’s oldest surviving vehicular span over the Santa Fe River.
The third structure honored by the H-Board is the one most residents
would probably think of first as being historically significant: the Bridge of the Hidalgos at the northern end of Grant Avenue. It was built to provide a direct and efficient connection from the central city to the highway to Taos and other areas of northern Santa Fe County. City engineer Walter G. Turley was the construction supervisor on the project. In an article published in Concrete Highway Magazine, Turley “attempted to equate the modern use of concrete to the historic use of adobe plaster… This connection between old and new materials was manifested in the rough, plaster-like concrete coating of the Bridge of the Hidalgos and the rounded elements of the heavy posts,” Murphy wrote.
The bridge type is concrete bowstring truss (also known as “rainbow arch”). The splendidly decorative form peaked in popularity a fewyears after the Santa Fe bridge was finished in 1920, but not too long afterward fell out of favor as “too costly in its construction, due to the large amount of steel needed to reinforce the curved and vertical members of the arch.”
It is an interesting coincidence that the bridge had its ceremonial opening during the city’s annual Fiesta, serving as a crossing for a grand parade marching from the Santa Fe Plaza to the dedication of the Cross of the Martyrs on Paseo de la Cuma— and both the cross and the new bridge were constructed by the Midland Bridge Company of Kansas City, Missouri.
Murphey did all three bridge reports this summer. Now an independent architectural historian and consultant, his resumé includes work for the Texas Historical Commission (1997-2000), New Mexico Historic Preservation Division (2000-2008), National Park Service (20092011), and the City of Santa Fe Historic Preservation Division (2011-2014).
“The Old Santa Fe Association hired me to do a National Register nomination for the Delgado Street bridge, so thought I might as well throw in, pro bono, forms for the other two bridges as well,” he told Home. “My personal interest is that they have always been ignored, even though they’re quite important.”
The Don Gaspar Bridge
The Bridge of the Hidalgos
The Delgado Street Bridge
A detail of the concrete bowstring truss bridge on Grant Avenue