By Steve Mosco
The Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, which helped turn an isolated area into a key recreational destination in the city and sparked the growth of the Rockaways, is celebrating its 75th anniversary.
Connecting the borough of Brooklyn from the southern end of Flatbush Avenue to Jacob Riis Park in Queens, the bridge opened to traffic July 3, 1937. It was the linchpin in a plan to turn Jamaica Bay and the Rockaway peninsula into the city’s newest recreational and residential community and to connect the area to the new Belt Parkway roadway system.
The span’s diamond jubilee is being celebrated with the opening of an exhibit of historic photographs from the MTA Bridges and Tunnels’ special archive collection at the Queens Public Library’s Rockaway branch, at 116-15 Rockaway Beach Blvd. The exhibit will be on view weekdays at the library and on weekends at the Rockaway Artists Alliance at the Rockaway Center for the Arts in Fort Tilden throughout July.
“For 75 years this bridge has brought people to new homes, helped them commute to work, deliver goods, grow their small businesses and allowed millions to experience the joy of cool ocean breezes, but most of all it has helped expand and strengthen the communities it continues to serve,” said MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Joseph Lhota.
At 3,840 feet from end to end, the Marine Parkway Bridge was the longest vertical lift span for vehicular traffic in the world when built and remains the longest in North America today.
The center lift span, which rises to 145 feet above water when lifted, is raised more than 100 times a year to accommodate marine traffic traveling between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, including both the Space Shuttle Enterprise this year and the British Airways Concorde in 2008, which were floated on barges beneath the bridge en route to their permanent home at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Contractor crews from American Bridge Co., of Pennsylvania, worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to comply with city Parks Commissioner Robert Moses’ edict to have the bridge opened in time for July 4, 1937. They beat the deadline by a day and the bridge opened with a 500-car motorcade led by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Moses.
In 1978, the name of hometown hero Gil Hodges was added to the bridge, honoring the Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman and World Champion New York Mets manager, who lived in Brooklyn during his playing years.
“We hope the community and visitors to the Rockaways will take the opportunity to view these historic photos that give a glimpse back to the roots of what are now some of New York City’s most vibrant communities,” said MTA Bridges and Tunnels President Jim Ferrara.
The bridge has a total of 45 employees, including maintenance and operations supervisors, lieutenants, sergeants, Bridge and Tunnel officers and support staff.
Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4546.