David McCullough: A Masterpiece in Jeopardy (Re: Brooklyn Bridge)

Roundup: Talking About History

The most long lasting of great American works, the structure destined "to convey some knowledge of us to remote posterity," said a New York writer long ago, was "not a shrine, not a fortress, not a palace, but a bridge." That was in the spring of 1883, 126 years past, when the completed Brooklyn Bridge opened to the most exuberant public celebration of the era, complete with the president of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, leading the grand parade on foot from New York to Brooklyn over the bridge high above the East River.

"The Great Bridge" was news everywhere. It was the moon shot of its time, a brave, surpassing technical triumph, and more. For it was besides a great work of art and a thrilling overture to the high-rise city in America. Its giant granite towers stood taller by far than anything on the New York skyline, taller indeed than any structure in all of North America then. Over the years it has been photographed more than anything ever built by Americans. It has been the inspiration for songs, poems, paintings, no end of personal reminiscences and thesetting for scenes in movies. It has remained New York's most famous, best-loved landmark.

Above all it has stood through good times and bad as a majestic symbol of affirmation, still there, still spanning the river for all to see and enjoy, to cross by automobile or bicycle, or stroll on a fine day over its one-of-a-kind boardwalk....

In the years since, its importance has seldom ever been doubted or seriously challenged. The sanctity of its own space has been unviolated by and large. Until lately. Now, alas, plans are proceeding to build an 18-story luxury apartment building within a hundred feet of the bridge on the Brooklyn side. (A vote in the process is expected this week.) The building, as proposed by the Two Trees Management Co., would stand 184 feet high and just about ruin the view of the bridge from on shore, as well as the view from the bridge looking toward Brooklyn—in other words, the view for just about everyone except those living in the apartments. To permit such a project so close to the bridge would be a shameful, inexcusable mistake. There is no other way to say it.

Would we wish to see an 18-story building go up beside the Statue of Liberty, or next to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, or beside the Washington Monument? Of course not....

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