THE BURNSIDE BRIDGE
This bridge poster is special to me. It honors what I believe is our signature bridge. I grew up here knowing that the Willamette River was the core ingredient that made Portland “Portland” When I returned here in 1973 after college I was struck how few people even noticed the bridges as they crossed the river. They didn’t see how like sculptures they are, or how like light houses they could signal a city’s future. They didn’t see that the bridges are the art form of our river.
Lumber was still king and Tektronix was leading us to the future; there was nothing in the city to draw our attention to the bridges or lead us down to the river. But the Fremont Bridge added mightily to our skyline and signaled the coming of companies like Nike and the many technology companies parented by Tektronix were about to broaden our attention and industry base. Some in the public and private sectors began to plan major urban changes based on the advise of Robert Olmsted and his plan of the early 1900s. Tom McCall Waterfront Park and Pioneer Square soon gave us a taste for communal spaces and events.
As these and other central city changes were taking form, I was on my quest to produce art based on our bridges with the hopes that it would help fellow Portlanders appreciate them for their engineering and visual qualities, as well as for their contributions as art and architecture. The first Portland Bridges design was started in 1982 and was published in 1989. It took time to do the research on all the bridges and develop the art and the story (text) in a form that I thought was good enough to publish. Since doing that piece I have created over hundred and fifty art pieces specifically on bridges throughout the world. I am happy to say that I have walked over almost all of these bridges.
Thanks to collective efforts that span more than fifty years, locals and visitors alike once again walk, run, bicycle and picnic on the banks of the Willamette. Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade, the Max and the street cars crossing our bridges, Dragon Boats and rowing skiffs, the Tram and riverside commercial and residential towers, the Big Dig Water Project, The Bite, The Blues Festival and the Bridge Pedal, and with two new bridge types due for completion in the next three years there are many things that now help remind us how central and exciting our river and riverfront can be.
Portland has become known as ”the city of bridges” as well as “the city of roses.” Its bridge portfolio is celebrated at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. We stand alone as the city with the best collection of bridge types in America and with two more soon to be added to this unique distinction. I believe the Burnside Bridge is Portland’s lead signature bridge in a family of signature bridges. Its architect-designed towers are city icons, marking Portland’s entry into the National City Beautiful Movement of the 1900s; its graceful spans mark the city’s geographic center and hold the center stage position in our “City of Bridges."
I hope you enjoy this BURNSIDE BRIDGE rendition. I produced this piece in honor of all our Bridges, the Willamette River and the many individuals from the public and private sectors who have contributed to making them possible and Portland one of the most livable cites, “Bridge Cities,” in America. A special thank you goes to the planners, engineers, steel industry, and all the trades that construct and maintain the forms and functions of our bridges.
I hope you will also join me in supporting the Willamette Light Brigade’s current efforts to light the architectural features of our center stage. The time has come for the Burnside Bridge to "be in light at night," to be our central nighttime beacon.
One of four Portland’s Willamette River bridges added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 20th, 2012.