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See The George Washington Bridge As Its Designers Intended

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Welcome back to Curbed's Could Have Been, where we investigate some of the most outlandish proposals that were never built. Know of a plan that never saw the light of day? Send it to the tipline.

[Toggle right to see the George Washington Bridge covered in granite stone, as it was intended to be. Toggle left to see the steel structure that New York has known for almost 83 years. Visuals by Max Touhey.]

The world's busiest motor-vehicle span, it's difficult to believe that the George Washington Bridge is, in a manner of speaking, unfinished. Designed by American architect Cass Gilbert and Swiss-American structural engineer Othmar H. Ammann—who, as Port Authority's Chief Engineer, was also responsible for the designs of the Verrazano Narrows and the Bayonne bridges—the suspension bridge was originally envisioned with its steel beams covered in granite. That means the current metal towers were intended not as the finished product they are now, but an armature for, as Darl Rastofer writes in his 2010 book Six Bridges, "thousands of pieces of dimensional stone."

[Visuals by Max Touhey.]

Rastofer offers a deeper explanation for the stone-clad design in his chapter titled, oh-so-pithily, "A Thwarted Plan for Stonework":

Ammann chose stone to strike a harmonious balance between the architecture of his structure and the natural grandeur of the site. On the New York shore, dramatic granite outcroppings carve their way from water's edge to high plateau. Ammann's towers were conceived as natural extensions of this rugged landscape. While formally related to the opposing cliffs, the stone towers promised to pose a perfect foil to the shiny steel of the cables and road deck hovering over the water.

[Original design proposal for the George Washington Bridge, showing it significantly larger (look at the tiny Brooklyn Bridge inset!) and complete with the ill-fated stone arches.]

Alas, although the bridge's governing board accepted the preliminary plans for those stone towers, design trends shifted away from revivalism and towards modernism, and the board eventually cancelled the stone due to reasons both stylistic and cost-saving.

Indeed, construction was completed under budget and eight months ahead of schedule, in no small part thanks to the lack of stonework. The architects were at first displeased, but never publicly expressed their frustration, and when the bridge opened on October 25, 1931, it was embraced by the masses, even without the granite. Here's a good what-if: had Ammann and Gilbert realized the bridge was not destined to include stone coverings, the GWB would likely have a far more slender shape, not having needed to be large enough to support all that weight.
—Hannah Frishberg
· The Cornerstone for This Huge Hudson Bridge Was Laid in 1895 [Curbed]
· The 1934 Plan to Fill In the Hudson River for $1 Billion [Curbed]
· Curbed's Could Have Been archive [Curbed]