Bronx New Deal - Photo #534 - The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge

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The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, with the Manhattan skyline in the background. Seen from SUNY Maritime College, June 10, 2015.

The Whitestone bridge (as it's called in the Bronx) was designed by the prolific Aymar Embury II[6], who led Robert Moses' design team and was paid by the federal government. It connects Ferry Point Park in the Bronx with Francis Lewis Park in the Whitestone section of Queens, New York City. Robert Moses wanted to construct this bridge, as well as the Throgs Neck Bridge and to some extent the Triborough Bridge, to provide easy access from the mainland to Queens (which is on Long Island) for the 1939 World's Fair and to the North Beach (now LaGuardia) Airport. The bridge was constructed in 1937-1939 and opened on the very day before the World's Fair.

The Whitestone Bridge and the Triborough Bridge were financed with complex shuffling of RFC, PWA, and private funds and the sale of bonds, some of them to the RFC and PWA, arrangements made by Robert Moses through his Triborough Bridge Authority that, to this day, are almost impossible to untangle. I don't know about you, but trying understand the description in [1] of this three-card monte game makes my head spin. But let's see what Moses himself has to say about it [2, pp.191-192]:

The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge opened on April 29, 1939. From its inception to its opening before schedule, it was a straight financing and construction job, relatively free from government red tape and obstructions.
     In 1937, when the Triborough Act was amended to provide refinancing and construction of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Triborough 4 percent revenue bonds were offered to the general public through underwriters and promptly sold. The entire previous issue of $35 million of Tribourough bonds in the hands of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was refunded, and a new total of $53 million was issued. The RFC received $28,536,000 in new bonds and a cash payment of 7 million. In the transaction the Federal government obtained a profit of $1,365,000.
To me, this says that he owed the government $35 million that he borrowed to build the Triborough Bridge, then he borrowed $53 million from investors and then paid $7 million of it to the government against his debt, and then borrowed another $28 million from the RFC by "repaying" them with more bonds, which left him with $74 million to pay for a bridge that would, in the end, cost under $20 million[3] to build. And left the government holding IOUs for $56 million! In any case, the official Bronx Historian, Lloyd Ultan notes that, “A new public authority headed by Robert Moses secured Works Progress Administration funding for building the Triborough Bridge and the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge”[7].

As for labor, it is often said (e.g. in [4]) that only "contract labor" was used by Moses for building bridges, but the contractors themselves used relief labor, as Moses himself notes in [2, p.695].

References:

  1. Schoolman, Morton, and Alvin Magid (editors), Reindustrializing New York State: Strategies, Implications, Challenges, State University of New York Press (1986) [Amazon].
  2. Moses, Robert, Public Works, McGraw Hill (1970) [Amazon].
  3. Bronx-Whitestone Bridge: Celebrating 75 Years, NY Metropolitan Transit Authority Press Release, April 8, 2014.
  4. Cleveland Rogers, Robert Moses, An Atlantic portrait, The Atlantic Magazine, February 1939
  5. Whitestone Span Opened by Mayor; New Bronx-Long Island Link Hailed as Symbol of City's Never-Ending Progress, NY Times, April 30, 1939.
  6. Robert Moses and the Modern Park System (1929-1965), New York City Parks Department website, 28 July 2015: ”At the Parks Department headquarters in the Arsenal, an enormous park design and construction team assembled. Architect Aymar Embury II and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke were among the 1,800 designers and engineers drawing up plans for the expansion, rehabilitation and modernization of New York's parks. An additional 3,900 construction supervisors oversaw the work of an army of Parks Department relief workers — 70,000 strong in 1934 — all paid by the federal government.”
  7. Ultan, Lloyd, The Northern Borough, A History of the Bronx, Bronx County Historical Society (2005,2009), p.254.
The New Deal in NYC 1932-1943 | Frank da Cruz | fdc@columbia.edu