March 9, By Hannah Wulkan
One of the most iconic structures in Astoria turned 100 years old today.
March 9 marks the 100th anniversary of the official dedication and opening of the Hellgate Bridge. Several local organizations are planning celebrations in honor of the railroad bridge across the East River that has come to be a symbol for the neighborhood.
The Greater Astoria Historical Society is throwing a birthday party for the bridge tonight, complete with cake and champagne. The celebration will kick off at 7 p.m. at the Historical Society on the fourth floor of 35-20 Broadway, and will feature lectures on the history behind the bridge and its impact on Astoria and New York as a whole.
“Its engineering was absolutely unprecedented for its time and it is such a massive structure,” said local bridge expert Dave Frieder, who has climbed and photographed the Hellgate on numerous occasions and will be speaking at tonight’s celebration. “The Brooklyn Bridge is a peanut compared to the Hellgate.”
The Hellgate Bridge was designed by engineer Gustav Lindenthal to carry freight and passenger trains across the East River, as well as to be a symbol of strength to the city. It was the inspiration behind the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.
Construction began in 1912 and the bridge celebrated its opening with a dedication ceremony on March 9, 1917. Though originally built as part of the New York Connecting Railroad, it is now operated by Amtrak.
The GAHS and other groups plan to celebrate the bridge’s centennial all year long.
GAHS is hosting a “Hike to the Hellgate” photo walk on March 25, where participants will trek from Socrates Sculpture Park to the Hellgate Bridge and take photographs of the bridge and neighborhood. It will be hosted by Frieder, as well as photographer Tarif Anzum and historian Richard Melnick.
On March 27, GAHS will also host a celebration of the beginning of regular rail service across the bridge, which started April 1, 1917. Representatives from Amtrak will visit the GAHS offices to discuss its history as a railroad bridge.
Astoria native Antonio Meloni, who is director of the New York Anti-Crime Agency and president of the Astoria Civic Association, has also been working to commemorate the bridge’s anniversary.
“We feel that the bridge is a neighbor and a part of our community so we should celebrate this milestone,” Meloni said.
His group has worked for years to clean up the area around the bridge, and this year commissioned two new murals to be painted at the base of the Hellgate with images of the bridge and of the statue of liberty.
He is also organizing a photo and logo contest of the bridge, gathering photographs of the bridge of all kinds, as well as logos that incorporate the bridge in to their design. He said the website for the contest will go up in the next few weeks and the contest would be judged sometime over the summer.
Meloni’s group is also organizing a celebration on September 9 to honor the bridge with a 5K run with the Hellgate Runners, a park cleanup, and various festivities.
“We grew up under the Hellgate,” Meloni said. “It’s such a landmark that I think everyone who grew up here felt a kinship to bridge.”