Work Begins on the Tower Bridge in California

July 20, 1934

In California, construction began on a new bridge that would cross the Sacramento River and connect the state capital of Sacramento in Sacramento County with the city of West Sacramento in Yolo County. This vertical lift bridge was built to replace the M Street Bridge, which was owned by the Sacramento Northern Railway. (A vertical lift bridge is a type of movable bridge designed for areas through which large ships travel on a regular basis; this bridge’s span can be elevated vertically while remaining parallel with the structure’s deck.)

“Formal legal technicalities dealing with posting of bonds and signing of contracts with the Sacramento Northern railroad will not be completed for a couple of days,” reported the July 20 edition of the Woodland Daily Democrat newspaper. “However, construction buildings were set up on the job today, including the office and tool house.”

The M Street Bridge was a swing through-truss railroad bridge that had been built more than two decades earlier. (This type of bridge, which had a superstructure composed of triangular units known as trusses, could be rotated horizontally to allow the passage of maritime traffic on the water below.) The M Street Bridge was eventually modified to also allow motor vehicles to travel across it. By the early 1930s, however, the bridge had become increasingly inadequate when it came to handling ever-growing volumes of automotive traffic. Plans were therefore made for a new and improved bridge at that location.

The new structure was the first vertical lift bridge in the California state highway system, and it measures 737 feet (225 meters) in length and features two 160-foot (49-meter)-tall towers. The Tower Bridge was initially constructed with a 52-foot (16-meter)-wide roadway which included a 13-foot (4-meter)-wide center lane for trains; that lane was flanked by single vehicular lanes as well as sidewalks. (The railroad tracks were removed in 1963, and the roadway was subsequently renovated to accommodate a total of four lanes for automotive traffic.)

The first train to cross the Tower Bridge did so in November 1935. The following month, the bridge was officially dedicated by California Governor Frank F. Merriam in a Sunday afternoon ceremony. As a part of those festivities, Merriam used his automobile to lead an inaugural parade across the Tower Bridge.

California Department of Highways and Public Works magazine reported, “As the radiator of his automobile broke the ribbon stretched across the eastern bridge entrance, the siren on the central towers announced the opening of the structure to traffic and factory whistles throughout the city, automobile horns and sirens on river craft joined in the chorus.” At the same time, approximately 1,000 homing pigeons were released at the site to fly throughout California with messages about the opening of the bridge. 

The Tower Bridge has been highlighted as a key example of the Streamline Moderne architectural style, which is characterized by such features as curving forms and long horizontal lines. The bridge served for many years as both a major link for U.S. Highway 40 traffic and the main gateway to Sacramento. The Tower Bridge is now maintained by the California Department of Transportation as part of State Route 275. This structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

For more information on the Tower Bridge, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_Bridge_(California)

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