Built in 1914 by the Ketler-Elliot Erection Company of Chicago, the iconic Chicago Avenue Bridge was demolished in November 2018. The Chicago Avenue Bridge was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but the Chicago Department of Transportation chose to replace it with a new concrete bridge.
The Chicago Avenue Bridge was a pony truss bascule bridge with an elegant symmetric span of riveted steel beams which taper towards the center. The exposed riveted steel references a heroic industrial age when Chicago was a manufacturing powerhouse, a leader in steel production, and a world-leading bridge design innovator. The bridge was operated from an elegant bridge house with a pitched roof, rounded corners, a ribbon of windows, and clad in a decorative copper, which oxidized green like the Statue of Liberty.
The Chicago Avenue Bridge was a historic asset immediately adjacent to the Chicago Landmark Montgomery Ward Complex dating from 1909 and designed by the distinguished architectural firm of Schmidt, Garden, and Martin. Overlooking the bridge and river is the 22.5 foot bronze statue that originally topped the former Montgomery Ward Building on Michigan Avenue. It is ironic that at a time when the City of Chicago has invested heavily in creating and expanding river access through an increasing network of riverwalks, that an iconic, elegant, human-scaled, historic river focal point was demolished to be replaced by a non-descript highway scale, highway-style bridge.
Iconic bridges such as the Chicago Avenue Bridge are a value to tourism and the film industry and these factors should be included in the economic calculations when engineers study existing assets like historic bridges. While a number of historic rail bridges spanning the Chicago River have been designated as Chicago Landmarks, Chicago’s bascule bridges have no protection against demolition. It is essential that these important icons of Chicago be recognized and protected by a Chicago Landmark designation of bridges along the main channel of the Chicago River and North and South branches.