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Tracing 105 Years of the Much-Maligned Manhattan Bridge

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The youngest of the East River's three suspension bridges (junior to the beloved Brooklyn Bridge by 26 years and the Williamsburg bridge by six), the Manhattan Bridge celebrates its 105th birthday this New Year's Eve—so put aside your qualms from the time you had to walk for, like, 15 minutes along the Flatbush Avenue Extension just to legally get off the pedestrian walkway, and instead take a mosey through the rich and varied past of a historically maligned span.

Conceived after the construction of both the Brooklyn and Williamsburg bridges, the Manhattan Bridge connecting Dumbo and Chinatown was created to relieve traffic to the former, and was known by the diminutive Bridge No. 3 during the planning stages. Leon Moiseeif designed the structure, partially basing his commission on a previously rejected design by some other bridge-expert guy. In a decision that would cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars, Moiseeif based his mockup on an imperfect understanding of deflection theory (which holds that length and flexibility are inextricably tied). He also placed streetcar tracks on the outer edges of the roadway. That misstep actually resulted in nearly 30 years' worth of necessary long-term reconstruction, only completed in 2007.

After nine years of construction, the Manhattan Bridge opened to traffic on December 31, 1909, although it would be another full year before work was actually complete. And it wasn't until 1915 that the Manhattan-side grand entry arch facing Canal Street and the Bowery was completed. Similarly incomplete when the bridge opened in 1909 were the subway tracks—while built, they did not actually connect to the rest of the system. Luckily, they fixed that, and today, the B, D, N, and Q trains all run across the bridge, offering one of the most expansive panoramas of the skyline in the entire city, delays or no.

An undeniably stunning feat of architecture, more than a century after its construction the Manhattan Bridge is, unfortunately, associated mainly with controversial mayor George B. McClellan Jr. (who christened it), the $830 million that have gone into repairing the span since the '80s (a contrast to the $31 million it cost to build the original structure), and, to the observant, the fact that the bridge drops some two to three feet when two trains go over it simultaneously.

It is sandwiched between the Brooklyn Bridge and the 59th Street Bridge along the East River, and neither German artists nor aerial performers seem to find the Manhattan Bridge worth their time to climb its arches.

Since it's the span's birthday, though, let's try and remember its singular blue-green color and efficient access via public transit—perhaps, even, the way it is draped across the river like jewelry—and not its compromised architecture or troubled past. Happy birthday, Manhattan Bridge!
—Hannah Frishberg

UPDATE: This article previously said that the Manhattan Bridge was "dwarfed in size" by the Brooklyn Bridge, but this is wrong. The Manhattan Bridge is both longer and taller than its neighbor to the south, coming in at 6,855 feet long and 322 feet tall, while the Brooklyn Bridge measures 5,989 feet long and 276.5 feet tall. Curbed regrets the error.

· 100 Years Later, Still No Respect for a Bridge [NYT]
· 130 Years of Brooklyn Bridge Photos, Decade by Decade [Curbed]
· All Manhattan Bridge coverage [Curbed]