President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the opening of the Triborough Bridge, July 11, 1936.
These two photos: New Deal Network.
Click each photo to enlarge.
Left: Presidential motorcade over the East River Lift Bridge.
Right: President Roosevelt and New York Governor Lehman.
President Roosevelt's Address: CLICK HERE.
Video: CLICK HERE
The Triborough Bridge
connecting the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens,
renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in 2008. It was built between 1934 and
1937 with grants and loans from the Federal Public Works Administration
(PWA). It is one of the projects highlighted in the 1939 book Public
. The black-and-white pictures in this section (unless
otherwise noted) are from that book, and were taken between 1937 and 1939.
Of the Triborough Bridge, the book says,
“The approximate construction cost of the bridges and viaducts, not
including the approaches, was $30,895,479. The city had spent $5,380,379 on
preliminary work before the P.W.A. allotment. The total estimated project
cost was $49,727,413.”
That's in 1939 dollars of course. The Triborough
Bridge project was originally conceived in 1916 and some preliminary work
was done in the 1920s but, in the words of Robert Moses:
Funds gave out. The project languished and was not revived until the
Federal government launched the first depression public works program
through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in 1932 ... Early in 1933
Governor Lehman had appointed the State Emergency Public Works Commission,
of which I became chairman. The purpose of this commission was to present
sound, self-liquidating projects within the state for financing by the RFC.
The Triborough Bridge headed this list ... we journeyed to Washington for
our first lively contact with Harold L. Ickes as Public Works
Administrator. In accordance with an agreement with the Public Works
Administration, the [Triborough Bridge] Authority sold that agency $35
million in bonds under an arrangement by which the Federal Government
provided a grant in aid of construction totaling 30 percent of the direct
construction cost of the bridge. This government grant amounted to $9.2
Robert Caro says that Moses...
...persuaded Mayor O'Brien to ask the Legislature to establish a
Triborough Bridge Authority that could issue its own bonds, secured by toll
revenues, and that would therefore be eligible for aid from the newly formed
Public Works Administration, and the PWA granted a $44,200,000 combination
loan and grant to the Authority on condition that the city make certain
This is only the beginning of a long story, but in the end the bridge was
built with a combination of federal loans and grants on top of a small
amount of initial city funding. The Triborough Bridge was one of the
largest public works projects of the Great Depression, even more expensive
(according to Wikipedia
the Hoover Dam.
The WPA Guide to New York City adds:
To prevent the customary degeneration of underbridge land into unsightly
catchalls, these parts of the Triborough right of way were landscaped as
parks and playgrounds. At the Astoria [Queens] end a large riverside park
includes a mammoth outdoor swimming pool as well as shady walks and play
spaces. On Randall's Island two old institutions, The Children's Hospital
and the House of Refuge, were razed and the whole island was transformed
into a recreational park around a great municipal
stadium. These were made accessible from the bridge. Under the
Manhattan ramps at 124th Street another large recreation field was built ...
Of the total cost of $60,300,000, New York City appropriated $16,1000,000,
while the Federal Public Works Administration made a grant of $9,200,000 and
bought $35,000,000 of bonds. In 1937 these bonds were bought back from the
the Government and were refinanced by direct sale to the public ... To the
pedestrian, the bridge offers one of the most spectacular high-level walks
in the country. In recommending that walkers starts from the Astoria end,
Lewis Mumford wrote: “Here is one of the few places where one can see
New York across a foreground of verdure and water and it must be counted one
of the most dazzling urban views in the world.”
The top photo was probably taken on Wards's Island, where the Triborough
and Hell Gate bridges approach each other, curving around to the northeast
(see next photo). It is no accident that the
bridge opened just in time for the 1939 World's
Fair in Flushing Meadow, Queens, to which it provided easy access from
both the Bronx and Manhattan.
here to see a WPA painting of the bridge in the main Manhattan Post
C.W., and R. Stanley Brown, Public
Buildings, A Survey of Architecture of Projects Constructed by Federal
and Other Governmental Bodies between the Years 1933 and 1939 with the
Assistance of the Public Works Administration,
United States Govenment Printing Office, Washington (1939), page 545.
- Moses, Robert, Public Works, McGraw Hill (1970), p.685.
Robert A., The Power Broker, Vintage Books (1974), p.345.
WPA Guide to New York City (1939), in reprint by The New Press (1990),
- Ickes, Harold, "PWA, a Four-Year Record of the
Construction of Permanent and Useful Public Works, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937.
Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (1937).
Gets Funds for City Stadium, New York Times, Thursday, September
12, 1935, p.27. ”.. the bridge is being financed with a $43,000,00 PWA
loan and grant.”