In Portland last November my friends Bob and Mary took me to look at the St. John’s Bridge, an Art Deco suspension bridge over the Willamette River near its confluence with the Columbia River.
It’s one of the most beautiful bridges I’ve ever seen. Designed by internationally renowned engineer David B. Steinman (1886-1960) and Holton D. Robinson, of New York, the St. Johns was the longest suspension-type bridge west of the Mississippi River at the time of construction. It is the only major highway suspension bridge in the Willamette Valley and one of only three major highway suspension bridges in Oregon. Mr. Steinmen wrote books, and I’d like to read one of them just to see what he was thinking when he designed the St. John’s. He must have been a serious student of Gothic architecture.
Usually I find Gothic style to be lumbering and portentous, sort of glooming all over the place. I dare you to be light-hearted when you visit the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, for example. But this bridge is almost gossamer in its lines, even organic, as if it grew there, instead of being constructed by the hand of man. It’s looks as if it were spun out of sugar. I’m mixing my metaphors, I know, but it’s that rare kind of construction that inspires high-flown verbiage.
The Gothic arches around which its built aren’t limited to just those you see driving over it, either, they’re continued in the uprights and the supports above and beneath the span. There is a great park, aptly named Cathedral Park, on the north side I would love to picnic in on a sunshiny day.
I told my friends I couldn’t believe they moved to Portland and didn’t buy a house with a view of this bridge.