The Manchester Bridge was the second bridge that connected the Point with the North Shore. It was the successor to the wooden, covered Union Bridge (1874-1907), which was torn down in the Summer of 1907.
The bridge was in use for fifty-four years, from 1915 through 1969, when it was replaced by the Fort Duquesne Bridge. It was demolished the following year as one of the final acts in the completion of the Point State Park project.
After the demolition of the Union Bridge, the city purchased the franchise rights to the crossing and planners began the process of determining what type of new bridge would be built to link the northern and southern shores of the Allegheny River at the point. Originally called as the "North Side Point Bridge," construction began in 1911.
The bridge piers, constructed by the Dravo Contracting Company, were made of concrete faced with Beaver sandstone and completed in October, 1912. The final cost of the substructure was $196,000. Work began on the superstructure in August, 1912.
Constructed by the American Bridge Company, the bridge consisted of two truss spans with subdivided panels, each 531 feet long. The clearance was seventy feet above the river level. The roadway was 36 feet wide, with twelve foot sidewalks on each side. The constuction cost of the main span was $300,000.
In addition to the 1062-foot main span, the bridge was flanked by two approachways, a 913 foot ramp on the Point side, and a 865 foot ramp on the north shore. Construction of the approaches began in January, 1914, with Booth and Flinn, Ltd. as the main contractor.
The north approach consisted of a series of six reinforced concrete arches and a long fill between concrete retaining walls. The south approach at the Point, consisted of two concrete arches together with over 700 feet of retaining wall.
This approach joined the already existing ramp of the Point Bridge. Approach ramps from Water Street and Duquesne Way completed the vehicle interchange at the point. The bridge was built at a cost of $1,000,000, funded entirely by city bond issues.
The Manchester Bridge was dedicated by Mayor Joseph A. Armstrong and opened to traffic on August 9, 1915. A gala ceremony took place on the North Shore. Thousands of onlookers had gathered for the christening, along with local dignitaries and special guests. No sooner had the ceremony begun, a rainstorm descended upon the crowd.
The mayor stood on the platform in the driving rain and hurriedly said, "I christen this structure the Manchester Bridge." While the rain drenched crowd cheered heartily and then headed for cover, the mayor hurried to a waiting automobile.
Preceding the ceremony was a parade
in which 300 elaborately decorated passenger autombiles, trucks and wagons.
Led by the Mayor, the parade formed at Pennsylvania Avenue and Chateau Street
and went over the following route:
When the bridge was dedicated it was still without any ornamental adornment. The Manchester Bridge had been originally designed to incorporate stone portals, but they were never constructed. Ornamental reliefs were affixed to the portals in 1917.
On the Point Portal was shown, kneeling on either side of the Arms of the City of Pittsburgh, Christopher Gist, the pioneer, and Guyasuta, a local Indian chief. The Northside portal had a coal miner and a mill worker on either side of the same municipal banner. On the upright of each portal were fixed ornamental lighting fixtures and flag staffs.
The Manchester Bridge stood at the Point for fifty-four years. After World War II, as the City of Pittsburgh modernized, plans for the redevelopment of the Point and transportation improvements during the 1950s Renaissance I building initiative deemed that two new bridges be built at the Point. Federal funding was used during the building of the Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne Bridges, with the provision that the two existing point bridges be torn down.
Efforts to save the historic structure failed. After the opening of the Fort Duquesne Bridge on October 17, 1969, the fate of the Manchester Bridge was sealed. The span was closed that day and demolished the following year. Dravo Corporation was awarded a $2.6 million contract from the State Highways Department to remove the bridge, approaches and piers.
The main spans were dropped on seperate days. On September 29, 1970, engineers from Controlled Explosions Inc., the detonation subcontractor for the Dravo Corporation, planned to drop the southern span that morning with a set of forty explosive charges. Due to faulty wiring, not all of the charges blew and the bridge withstood the blast.
Eleven hours later, a second set of forty charges brought the bridge section splashing down into the Allegheny River in a mere four seconds. During the following four weeks, workmen for the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel, another subcontractor, cut apart the skeletal structure that rested partially submerged and removed the scrap steel by barge.
The American Bridge Project Director David Maxwell described the old bridge as a "relatively primitive" structure, and the simplicity of design made explosive demolition a quick and easy operation as opposed to the piece-by-piece dismantling of the nearby Point Bridge. The northern bridge span was brought down in a textbook blast on October 28, this time using a set of eighty blasting charges.
More problematic was the long northern approach and the steel-reinforced piers under the arches, which resisted all efforts at demolition and required a series of heavy explosive charges to remove. The "Y" intersection at the Point was later relandscaped and incorporated into the Point State Park plans. On that small tip of the Golden Triangle stands the signature fountain at the junction of the three rivers.
During the removal of the bridge, vestiges of the structure were preserved. The northern pier was left in place and intended to serve as an observation deck in the riverside park along the Allegheny River. The park, later named Roberto Clemente Park, was built as part of the construction of Three Rivers Stadium. The two portal sculptures were to be mounted on the stone-faced pier, but the project was never completed.
For many years, these sculptures were displayed outside the Old Post Office (Children's Museum) on the North Side, then placed in storage at Heinz Field. The abandoned stone pier stood silently along the shoreline for the next thirty-nine years.
In 2001, Three Rivers Stadium was replaced with Heinz Field, and there was once again talk of North Shore development and an expanded riverside park. In 2009, the stone pier was incorporated into an observation deck that included a memorial to Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers, the long-time host of the children's television show, "Mister Rogers Neighborhood." The memorial, a Tribute to Children, was dedicated on November 5, 2009.
On July 8, 2016, one of the bridge reliefs, featuring Christopher Gist and Guyasuta, was brought out of storage, restored and mounted on a wall of Corten Steel. Designed by sculptor Charles Keck and funded by a donation from the Rooney family, the relief is now displayed in a plaza near Heinz Field and the Mister Rogers memorial.
The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation is still working with the Manchester Citizens Corporation to find a permanent home for the figures of Joe Magarac and Jan Volkanik.
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