Save the Crook Point Bridge

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View from the bikepath below Dr. Agnes Somlo’s apartment at Wingate. (Photo by author)

Call me a stick in the mud, but climbing the 111-year-old Crook Point Bascule Bridge stuck in the up position since 1976 is not on my bucket list. However, since the last train chugged across the Seekonk River, pimpled daredevils in their uncounted swarms have made the rusty trek aloft sans sherpas, imperiling their own lives. Last year, the state of Rhode Island quietly decided to demolish the dangerous eyesore and nuisance.

Excuse me. I say it is art.

For me this goes against the grain. I prefer art that takes pride in beauty. Still, the bridge is central to the picture-window view of my dear mother-in-law from her comfy new apartment at the Wingate assisted-living center, overlooking East Providence from next to the IGA, now known as the Eastside Marketplace. Without the Crook Point Bascule Bridge saluting Agnes (Dr. Somlo to you) from downriver, I’m not sure she would feel as happy with her recent residential downsizing. Certainly the joy of my own frequent visits with Billy and Victoria would diminish, slightly, without the iconic centerpiece of her view to partake.

The old bridge is no less art than a nicely framed painting above the sofa.

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The Crook Point Bascule Bridge circa 1921. (Providence Journal)

The Journal’s Patrick Anderson reported today in “R.I. puts Providence’s distinctive drawbridge down for demolition” that the state plans to spend $6 million to get rid of the bridge, perhaps by 2027. “But the longer the bridge has thrust awkwardly into the sky between Providence and East Providence,” writes Anderson, “and the more decrepit it’s become, the more distressing the idea of losing it seems to many in the area. The bridge’s dark silhouette has been screenprinted on popular T-shirts, its symbolism of urban decay studied at Brown University and its rusted metal tagged by graffiti artists.”

See? The Crook Point Bascule Bridge is art. Even the Journal says so.

But if you still doubt that it should be saved, consider a state transportation project that RIDOT is now fast-tracking. I refer to the demolition and replacement of the Henderson Bridge, just upriver from the Bascule. Six million dollars could turn its underwhelming initial design into something much nicer, featuring a structural arch or a set of elegant pylons. Or it could help finance a shift that would bring the bridge over the narrowest stretch of the Seekonk, enabling the reconnection of Providence’s Waterman Street to East Providence’s Waterman Avenue. They end across the river from each other; their remarriage could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, if developers are encouraged to build nice communities along each embankment. (See “Make Mr. Highways smile.”)

Whether for the purposes of art or urban design, the bridge should be saved. And if not for that, then to prevent the stupidity of throwing $6 million away for nothing. (Which sounds more in the policy line for RIDOT since the end of its glory days of moving railroads, moving rivers and moving highways, just a decade or two ago.)

No. Rhode Island’s Mt. Everest should be preserved.

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Closeup of the undercarriage of the Bascule Bridge. (Sandor Bodo/Providence Journal)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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8 Responses to Save the Crook Point Bridge

  1. Wendy says:

    It looks like it’s all cleared for demolition?! of the trees of all been cut down all the brush cleared away the DOT has been all over it this week. Is there any hope of saving it I picture a mini elevated park like the Highline in New York City. beautiful view and fishing spot.

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  2. John Rousseau says:

    I didn’t like it when I moved here 13 years ago, but now I value it as the most interesting reference point on that otherwise boring river. The state could make use of
    It as an important point of reference on the bikeways , as it can be seen from great distances. Or, create a usable, simpler foot bridge (than the other, new pedestrian bridge over the Providence River.) Over time, it could become part of the bike way system, drawing a greater number of the population into Providence for recreational and commuting purposes. But, that would involve forethought and imagination…

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  3. Ryan DiLello says:

    Hi David,
    I loved this article.
    I’m a reporter at The Public’s Radio. I’m doing a feature story on the bridge and I’d like to speak to someone that understands the bridge’s great artistic/cultural significance. If you’re interested, please send me an email and we can talk further!

    Like

  4. William S. Kling says:

    I have to generally agree with you, David. As someone who climbed it not long after its abandonment, there’s a great view from the top! It wasn’t decrepit as it is now, only a few rotten boards to test before one put one’s weight on. People keep proposing uses of the tunnel and, I assume, the piers for another route ES to EP-I would reluctantly support that, as much as I love the now-iconic image. PS before it was IGA it was a First National Store (Finast). My little bro ran away from Mom and almost got run over in the parking lot c. 1965.

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  5. Glenn Turner says:

    This may be the most selfish blog post you have written to date. The bridge is an attractive nuisance. The view from your M.i.L.’s place would also be disrupted by police boats dragging the river for the body of one of the pimply-faced daredevils you mention. Dave, aesthetics and history are important, but this is a safety issue. It was already dangerous when I first walked out on it in 1985. Everyone should cheer the removal.

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    • Your comment, Glenn, reminds me of the proposal put forward for the James River Bridge after an accident took place because a driver in 1982 was looking out over the river and not paying attention to his driving. Virginia wanted to put solid walls along the bridge rails so that nobody could see the view, and thereby focus attention on the road. This was, of course, stupid in the extreme. Society cannot protect against the irresponsibility of everyone at every point where irresponsibility, or suicidal impulses, might result in death. To try to do so would be to rob responsible people of some of the great joys of living. I think our dead bridge falls into that category. People must be responsible for their own actions. Society cannot protect and should not try to protect everyone from their own folly.

      Morever, to tear down the bridge would be to throw away $6 million, robbing the public of what actual useful benefit it could provide if spent on some other project. Some demos are necessary or useful. Not this one.

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  6. Steve says:

    The bridge itself is 1) structurally unsafe, 2) a target for criminal behavior (arson, drugs, graffiti), 3) presents a safety hazard for trespassers, and 3) has no public use value.

    At some point it will start dropping pollutants and whole pieces will fall into the river.

    There are two options 1) It must go or 2) it must be refurbished for use by a resurrected mass transit subway/streetcar system.

    The first costs $6M.The second would require strong city and state vision and action that will triple the cost but create the beginning of a system in a city with approx 10,000 people/sq mile.

    I prefer option 2, but there is no chance of this with the current weak Mayor.

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    • Oddly enough, its status as an iconic feature of our landscape has provided the bridge with a public use value. I would like your Option 2, and would tear it down or renovate it for such reasons, but that, as you point out, seems unlikely. For the rest, you may consult my reply to Glenn Turner.

      Like

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