The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge: Robert Moses, Bay Ridge, and the birth of America's longest suspension bridge
With Fort Wadsworth to its side, the last of Othmar Ammann's New York bridges jets out over the Narrows.
PODCAST The longest suspension bridge in the United States, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was one of Robert Moses' most ambitious projects, a commanding structure that would finally link Staten Island with Brooklyn. Today it soars above New York Harbor as one of the finest examples of architecture from the 1960s. But it didn't get built without some serious community outcry, from a neighborhood that would be partially destroyed in its wake -- Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
This is the tale of a 16th century explorer, a 20th century builder and a timeless marvel of the harbor, with a design that takes the curvature of the earth -- and one very, very large boat -- into consideration.
ALSO: The bridge's finest film performance, with co-star John Travolta.
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The Bowery Boys: The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
This is Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, who sailed into the Narrows in 1524, decades before Henry Hudson. Unfortunately, he miscalculated and thought the harbor was a big lake, so he left.
An existing sketch of David Steinman's proposal for the Narrows span. Called the Liberty Bridge, it was a hybrid of the Golden Gate and the Brooklyn Bridge and features bells that would ring out periodically through the harbor. This came very close to being implemented, but the project died in Congress thanks to a New York representative: young Fiorello LaGuardia.
From a Getty Image we find the all-powerful Robert Moses discussing his project on the eve of its opening, November 1964. Many dreamed of spanning the Narrows, but only Moses had accumulated enough influence the see the project to fruition. (CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Along the Brooklyn shore in 1914 with old Fort Lafayette out on an old reef. The fort was demolished to make way for the base of the bridge. (Courtesy the Brooklyn Museum)
The view in 1963 and the bridge without its roadway, which would be delivered by barges in specifically crafted pieces and hoisted in place. (Courtesy petepix75/Flickr, and has some other great old New York pics in his photostream)
When the bridge opened in November 1964, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, overtaking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The Verrazano-Narrows held that title until 1981 when the Humber Bridge in the UK overtook it. (Pic courtesy NYPL)
From overhead, it's easy to see the challenges faced by Ammann and engineers in designing and constructing the bridge.
A newsreel from 1963, outlining the construction of the bridge and illustrating the dangers workers faced in building it.
The bridge plays a prominent role -- and a tragic one -- in the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever.
A deleted scene from the film prominently highlights the main character's obsession with the bridge:
There are some terrific photos and additional history at Forgotten New York on the opening of the bridge. There's even some aftermath photos of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, after the city ripped away several homes.
You can take a preview peek of Gay Talese's The Bridge here.
And if you ever wondered what it looks like to ride the Queen Mary 2 underneath the bridge, here you go:
NOTE: We mention the Outerbridge in the podcast, the official name of which is 'the Outerbridge Crossing' to sidestep that Outerbridge Bridge issue. Many refer to it as just 'the Outerbridge' to save the syllables.