1955: “A Pleasant Task” – The Opening of a Bridge in Washington, D.C.

November 10, 1955

The East Capitol Street Bridge in Southeast Washington, D.C., was officially opened. This bridge, carrying East Capitol Street across the Anacostia River, had been built to help reduce increasingly heavy traffic in that region of the nation’s capital.

The dedication ceremony for the East Capitol Street Bridge commenced at 3:30 on that Thursday afternoon in November, with approximately 300 people showing up for the event. Those in attendance included Alma Marceron, a resident of Franklin Street, N.E., in the city. The Washington Post reported, “She said she came two hours early — at 1:30 p.m. — so as not to miss any of the excitement.”

Samuel Spencer, president of the city’s three-person Board of Commissioners (the pre-home rule governing body for the District of Columbia), proclaimed to the crowd that the opening of the bridge was a “pleasant task.” He also said, “It is a monument to the skill, energy and vision of the city’s engineers and planners.”

Other public officials on hand for the ceremony included George Hyde Fallon, a Democratic congressman from Maryland and chairman of the House Committee on Public Works; Douglas Brinkley, chief planning engineer for the District of Columbia Highway Department; and Spencer’s fellow commissioners Thomas A. Lane and Robert E. McLaughlin.

Rain began to fall just a few minutes before the start of the ceremony, but everything took place as scheduled despite the now-inclement weather. Tippy Stringer, who had become a regional celebrity through her work as both a singer at a nightclub in Northwest Washington and a weather forecaster for a local TV station, cut apart a red satin ribbon to formally open the East Capitol Street Bridge. “I dedicate this new bridge to the motorists of the nation,” she announced while performing that inaugural duty. Spencer then presented Stringer with a bouquet of chrysanthemums.

Another big part of the afternoon’s festivities occurred at 4:00, when Chief Robert V. Murray of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia became the first person to travel across the bridge. He drove what the Washington Post called “a sleek, low-slung sports model” and led a procession of other vehicles likewise making their way across the new structure in the torrential rain.

In 1974, this structure was renamed the Whitney Young, Jr. Memorial Bridge in honor of a prominent civil rights leader. Young, who died three years earlier, was a staunch foe of employment discrimination and a tireless champion for social and economic justice for all. A marker commemorating his legacy is displayed on the eastbound approach to the 1,800-foot (548.7-meter)-long, six-lane bridge that continues to bear his name.

(The above photo depicts an aerial view of the bridge at the time of its opening.)

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Additional information on the Whitney Young, Jr. Memorial Bridge (originally called the East Capitol Street Bridge) is available at https://ddotlibrary.omeka.net/exhibits/show/bridges/wymembridge

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