April 27, By Michael Florio
Astorians are planning a series of events to celebrate the Hell Gate Bridge as it turns 100 years old.
The newly founded Hell Gate Centenary Celebration Group hosted its first planning meeting on Tuesday night. More than 30 people attended, with ideas including a celebration festival, walking tours, a photo contest and cleanups around the bridge.
Construction on the iconic bridge began on March 1, 1912 and ran until September 30, 1916. The bridge was first used on March 9, 1917.
The group is in the early stages of planning the 100th anniversary of the bridge’s opening, according to Tony Meloni, the group’s founder.
With a number of ideas brewing for possible celebrations, Meloni said he envisions a series of events beginning in September and running until June.
While plans are still in the works, Meloni said he hopes to kick off with a small festival in September. It would be held along Shore Boulevard, near the bridge.
Meloni is considering the idea of getting Shore Boulevard closed off and organizing an antique car show.
Many in attendance suggested fireworks near the bridge, including Community Board 1’s District Manager Florence Koulouris and Richard Khuzami, President of the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association.
Meloni said he likes the idea, and is currently considering having a big festival in June, when a firework show already takes place in Astoria Park.
“That show is done right in front of the Hell Gate,” he said. “I think that would be a great time.”
He hopes to host a small event on March 9, to celebrate the anniversary of the bridge’s opening day.
Other suggestions for events between September and June include cleanups of the land around the bridge, a mural painting and lighting the bronze plaque that is on the base of the bridge.
Another idea included a historical walking tour, which could start at the Hell Gate Bridge and travel along Shore Boulevard to the RFK/Triborough Bridge.
“This is a great way to teach the history of the bridge,” Meloni said.
The Hellgate Road Runners discussed hosting a celebratory 5K run along Shore Boulevard.
The Hell Gate Centenary Celebration Group will also reach out to Amtrak about adding lights to the bridge.
“Not having lights is a safety concern,” Meloni said. “Adding lights would also make it look really nice.”
The group will host additional meetings going forward to continue to discuss and schedule the events.