Monroe Street Bridge

The river that lent its name to Spokane has also been a barrier to the development of the city. No sooner was Spokane established than city fathers looked for places to bridge the raging currents. Today's Monroe Street Bridge, a Spokane landmark, is the third bridge on this site.

The first Monroe Street Bridge was constructed of wood and built with horses and wagons in mind. The city, the Cable Railway Company, and property owners along Monroe Street split the cost of $42,500.00 to build the bridge. A new Monroe Street Bridge constructed of steel was completed in 1890. The steel bridge represented a step towards modernity, and was completed just in time to accommodate an unprecedented time of expansion for the city. The bridge boasted updates such as overhead lighting and the ability to accommodate doubled-tracked streetcars. But the new bridge soon became a source of controversy.

It was immediately apparent that the bridge vibrated heavily, perhaps dangerously, with any sort of traffic. In 1905 the bridge was deemed unsafe by National Good Roads Association, and the next year a bridge expert labeled the bridge an accident waiting to happen: "Should a street car run off the track, or a bunch of steers be driven over it, the whole thing might collapse." In 1907 the elephants of the Ringling Brother's Circus refused to walk across the shaky span. Three years later the south side of the bridge collapsed after a mudslide.

Spokane had plenty of trouble with its bridges in those days. In 1915, the Division Street Bridge collapsed, dropping a street car into the river resulting in 5 deaths and twelve injuries. These tragedies fueled an intense demand for safer concrete-arch bridges.

A grand new Monroe Street Bridge was designed by Spokane City Engineer John Chester Ralston, and Spokane's most celebrated architects: Kirtland K. Cutter and Karl G. Malmgren. Construction over the 140-feet deep and 1,500 feet wide gorge was challenged by severe windstorms, high water levels, and swift-moving currents. Two laborers died and over fifty were injured. Ralston was removed from the project after he was accused of stealing the design from Rocky River Bridge in Cleveland, and replaced by his assistant. Today's Monroe Street Bridge opened November 23, 1911 with over 3,000 Spokane citizens on hand to celebrate. It was the world's largest concrete arch-bridge.

In 1914, just a few years after completion of this visual landmark, the city fathers permitted a railroad bridge to be built right over the top of it, marring the beauty of the structure. The Great Northern railroad bridge remained in place for over half a century, until it was removed as part of the preparations for Expo 74.

Today the Monroe Street Bridge today looks very much as it did in 1911, thanks to the removal of the railroad bridge and a 2003-2005 reconstruction project. Reconstruction was necessary because by the 1990s the bridge had begun to drop large chucks of concrete into the river below. The rebuilding preserved the structural features from the original 1911 design, including Cutter and Malmgren's life-size buffalo skulls, wagon wheels, wagon pavilions, and chain handrails that embody the pioneer spirit of Spokane's earliest settlers.

Images

Monroe Street Bridge, 1889

Monroe Street Bridge, 1889

Construction of the first Monroe Street Bridge. Image Courtesy of the Northwest Room of the Spokane Public Library View File Details Page

Looking North, 1889

Looking North, 1889

The first wooden Monroe Street Bridge was a popular route connecting north and south Spokane. Image Courtesy of the Northwest Room of the Spokane Public Library. View File Details Page

Construction of the Second Monroe Street Bridge, 1890

Construction of the Second Monroe Street Bridge, 1890

The second steel-frame bridge rose from the ashes of the first bridge. You can still see rubble in this image as they constructed the new bridge. Image Courtesy of the Northwest Room of the Spokane Public Library. View File Details Page

Wooden Monroe Street Bridge

Wooden Monroe Street Bridge

The above image captures the first Monroe Street Bridge built of wood, and its reconstruction after is destruction in 1890. Image courtesy of History of the City of Spokane Country, Washington Vol. 1. View File Details Page

Steel Constructed Monroe Street Bridge

Steel Constructed Monroe Street Bridge

The second Monroe Street constructed of steel. Note the overhead lighting and streetcar crossing. Image Courtesy of the Book, Beauties of Spokane. View File Details Page

Monroe Street Bridge Entrance

Monroe Street Bridge Entrance

Entrance to the southern end of the Monroe Street Bridge. The steel bridge was built for pedestrian and streetcar traffic. However, how much heavy traffic the bridge could sustain was of serious concern. Image Courtesy of the Book, Beauties of Spokane. View File Details Page

Monroe Street Bridge ca. 1904

Monroe Street Bridge ca. 1904

The Spokane River's Lower Falls and the Monroe Street Bridge. Notice the water level and the power of the Spokane River. Building and repairing the bridge over the years has often been dangerous business due to the raging currents and sometimes high water levels. Image L87-1.529 Courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. View File Details Page

The Monroe Street Bridge ca. 2010

The Monroe Street Bridge ca. 2010

The Monroe Street Bridge we know today. Image Courtesy of Flickr user Daniel Parks under a Creative Commons license. View File Details Page

Monroe Street Bridge 1911 Aesthetics

Monroe Street Bridge 1911 Aesthetics

The world renowned concrete Monroe Street Bridge was first constructed in 1911. Despite undergoing extensive repair in 2003, the original details such as the concrete-cast bison skulls, wagon covered pavilions, and chain-link railings designed by Kirtland Cutter and Karl Malmgren were preserved. Image Courtesy of Filckr user Terry Bain under a Creative Commons license. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Paige M. Nash, “Monroe Street Bridge,” Spokane Historical, accessed July 28, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/507.
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