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Tower Bridge: Gateway to the Capitol


James Songco

on 25 August 2015

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Transcript of Tower Bridge: Gateway to the Capitol


Gateway to the Capitol
Identifying A Need

By the early s, Americans were moving away from trains and ships and turning to automobiles as their main mode of transportation. As a result, traffic on roadways increased dramatically.
In Sacramento, M Street (now Capitol Mall), one of the city’s busiest routes during this period, served as a major link to U.S. Highway 40 (now West Capitol Avenue and State Route 275).
The Sacramento Northern Railway Bridge spanned the Sacramento River directly north of the existing Tower Bridge.
Although it could accommodate vehicles, by 1933 the bridge had reached its automobile capacity and state recognized the need for a new
at M Street.
Deal Plan
In the midst of the
Great Depression, the
federal government initiated
New Deal programs in an effort to
boost the economy and create jobs.
New Deal programs focused on infrastructure
projects throughout the country. A joint effort
by Sacramento and Yolo Counties, the State of
California, and the federal Civil Works program made
funds available for the construction of a new bridge at
M Street. In early 1934, the California Division of Highways
(now the California Department of Transportation) Bridge
Department and the state’s Division of Architecture embarked on
plans for the new bridge.
Fred W. Panhorst and George Thompson from the Bridge Department
served as structural engineers for the impressive vertical-lift-type bridge,
and Alfred Eichler, from the state’s Division of Architecture, served as the
designer. The bridge design included a rail line in the center of the deck with
two lanes for increased automobile traffic on either side, along with
pedestrian walkways. Eichler conceptualized the Tower Bridge in the
Streamline Moderne architectural style, a later outgrowth of Art Deco that
gained worldwide popularity between World War I and World War II
(1919-1938), as the style symbolized progress, modernization, speed,
efficiency, and technology.
Bridge Designer Alfred Eichler, 1930.
Ink Drawing of the Bridge Design by Alfred Eichler, 1934
Tower Bridge Under Construction, 1935
Source: City of Sacramento (text and old photographs); JSDS (new photographs).
Building a
George Pollock & Company dismantled the old M Street Bridge and built the new structure in the summer of 1934. During the course of construction, the project employed an average of 130 workers for 16 months. Spanning 737 feet, the bridge has a vertical-lift section that is 209 feet long and rises nearly 100 feet above the Sacramento River when fully elevated.

The Tower Bridge, named for its streamlined towers, was the first vertical-lift span bridge on the California highway system. The bridge deck and sidewalks were built with an experimental lightweight concrete that was used later in the construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Tower Bridge Under Construction, 1935
Tower Bridge (Span Lifted) Circa 1940
Gateway to the
State Capitol
The designers gave special attention to the
appearance of the bridge, creating portals that form
a welcoming gateway to the City of Sacramento and
the state Capitol. At a total cost of $994,000, the
Tower Bridge formally opened to traffic on December
15, 1935. For the year of 1936, the American
Institute of Steel Construction recognized it as “The
Most Beautiful Bridge”. The bridge is exceptional as
a rare example of an industrial lift bridge designed
in the Streamline Moderne style. In 1982, the Tower Bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its historical significance in architecture, engineering, and transportation.
View of Bridge from West Sacramento showing Original Aluminum Paint Circa Early 1960s
Dedication Ceremony, December 15, 1935
California Department of Transportation (photos)

Sacramento Archives and Museum Collection Center (photo)

City of Sacramento (text).
Full transcript