Search WWW

Historic American Engineering Record
West End-North Side Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA (PA-96)

Page 1 of 2   --   Next Page


Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)
Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service
Historic American Buildings Survey - Collection of the Library of Congress

West End-North Side Bridge (West End Bridge)
PA-96 (LOC call number: HAER, PA-2-PITBU,3-)
Location: Spanning the Ohio River, approximately 1 mile downstream from the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers; Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; UTM: 17.4477720.582560; Quad: Pittsburgh West
Date of Construction: 1931-1932; repaired in 1948, 1955, 1958, 1977
Engineer: Allegheny County Bureau of Bridges
Present Owner: Pennsylvania Department of Transportation; Transportation and Safety Building; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120
Present Use: Vehicular bridge
Significance: After two decades of agitation by the local business community, the West End-North Side Bridge was completed in 1932 by the American Bridge Company under contract to Allegheny County. The main span is a graceful, 778-foot long, tied-arch structure which employed pre-stressed hangers between the twin arches and the bottom chords. This bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 for the engineering and aesthetic qualities of the main span. Approaches to the high level main span are by three pony trusses on the south and four pony trusses on the north.
Project Information: This recordation was conducted for the Federal Highway Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in July and August 1985, to fulfill the requirements of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). The MOA stipulates that the northern approach spans, the focus of this study, be recorded prior to their demolition and the construction of the West End Bridge Ohio River Boulevard Interchange. This documentation has been prepared under the direction of
William P. McHugh, Ph.D.
GAI Consultants, Inc.
570 Beatty Road
Monroeville, Pennsylvania 15146


A. Introduction

On December 1, 1932, amidst news of hunger marches, "share-the-work" campaigns, and exhausted local relief funds, Pittsburgh celebrated the opening of the $3,640,000 West End-North Side Bridge. The opening of the bridge was the culmination of twenty-five years of agitation for a bridge to link the city's industrial North Side with the growing newer communities of the West End and the South Hills (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, December 2, 1932).

On the eve of the bridge opening, the North Side-West End Bridge Celebration Committee, representing twenty Allegheny County civic organizations, hosted a gala banquet at the Fort Pitt Hotel that was attended by the county commissioners, Pittsburgh and South Hills businessmen, members of the West End Board of Trade, the South Hills and North Borough Highway Association, and members of the Pittsburgh City Council. The master of ceremonies was Henry Tranter, a prominent Pittsburgh manufacturer, a lifelong resident of Greentree Borough, the former head of the West End Board of Trade, an active member of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce's Bridges and Highways Committee, and the moving force behind the building of the West End-North Side Bridge. Tranter called the bridge opening "an epoch in the history of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County." Confessing the obvious, that the new bridge saddled the depression-torn county with an untimely tax burden, the incurable booster Tranter said, "in view of the return of prosperity which I believe is now approaching," the debt is bearable (Pittsburgh Press, December 2, 1932; Post Gazette, December 1, 1932; Post Gazette, December 2, 1932).

At the bridge-opening festivities on December 2, 1932, Tranter's seven-year-old granddaughter, Mary Hershberger, cut the ribbon, officially inviting traffic across the new West End-North Side Bridge. Next, a cheering convey of three hundred vehicles motored across the new bridge and, taking Main Street and Noblestown Road, toured the boroughs of Crafton, Greentree, Carnegie, Dormont, and Mount Lebanon before the motorcade returned over the Saw Mill Run Boulevard (Pittsburgh Press, December 2, 1932).

In historical perspective, the West End-North Side Bridge opening had both symbolic and paradoxical significance. Indeed, as Tranter hoped, the bridge did link North Side and South Hills, a marriage symbolically consummated by the route of the motorcade. Contrary to Tranter's dream, however, the prosperity conjured up in the hyperbole surrounding the completion of the bridge never materialized. Instead, as this brief history indicates, a decade of decline for the North Side and Chateau areas followed the construction of the four elevated pony truss bridges that form the northern approach.

This study focuses first on the decision to build the West End-North Side Bridge. It looks briefly at the construction of the bridge and then explores more closely the history of the industrialized Chateau area, that is, the Twenty-First Ward, which was the section most directly affected by the building of the bridge. This study shows that the four pony truss bridges, which constituted the northern approach to the West End-North Side Bridge, sliced through a historically industrialized neighborhood, the Chateau or shorefront district of old Manchester. This neighborhood also had a large residential component and thus illustrates the historic nexus between work and residence that characterized late nineteenth and early twentieth century urban industrialism. Although the bridge disrupted the residential character of the Chateau area in 1930, it is more fair to argue that the bridge oversaw rather than precipitated the eventual decline of the neighborhood (Rimmel 1969; Hershberg 1981:3-35).

B. The Campaign for the Bridge, 1915-1928

The completion of the West End-North Side Bridge in December 1932 marked the culmination of a decade-long, county-wide, public works program in the Pittsburgh region that, in the minds of area businessman, secured the economic future of both the city and the region. Pittsburgh was not alone in exalting public works as a sound economic insurance policy. Pittsburgh joined Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and other cities in a frenzy of road, tunnel, bridge, and public building construction. In the 1920s, Philadelphia rushed to complete its Benjamin Franklin Parkway, extended its Broad Street subway, and crowned its public works building program by constructing a new stadium as part of the city's role in hosting the Sesquicentennial. New York City surpassed every other city in the sheer magnitude of public works expenditures. During the 1920s, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses rammed plans for the new parks, roads, and playgrounds through the New York state and municipal bodies. (Scott 1969; Caro 1974:1-21; Bauman 1969:1-28).

Pittsburgh, however, never lagged far behind in the "race" for public works. Under the banner "Pittsburgh Forward" and shouting "Smoke and Soot Be Damned," Pittsburgh businessmen, civic leaders, and public officials determined to secure the city's position as an industrial giant and to accomplish that objective through public works and the promotion of physical growth. As during the 19th century, Pittsburgh boosters equated prosperity with untrammeled growth, and they identified improved transportation as the key to that growth. Throughout the 1920s, the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce pressed the county to float "People's Bond" issues to fund a bevy of transportation projects, including the building of the Ohio River Boulevard, the Saw Mill Run Boulevard, Allegheny River Boulevard, the Liberty Tunnels, the Liberty Bridge, the McKees Rocks Bridge and, finally, the West End-North Side Bridge (Greater Pittsburgh, October 25, 1926; Pittsburgh First, December 6, 1924).

In addition to elaborating a system of boulevards and beltways to conform Pittsburgh's traffic patterns to the needs of the automobile, local boaters sought to modernize the region's river system. Area businessmen and industrialists promoted a new canal system to connect the city with Lake Erie ports. Business leaders also pressed for the deepening of the river channels and for raising the area bridges in order to facilitate the use of large ships. Indeed, work underway in the 1920s to install new locks and deepen the channel in the Ohio River expanded the capacity of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville river network, so that in 1925 the Ohio River carried close to 16,000,000 tons of goods (Pittsburgh First, July 10, 1926).

As much as modern roadways, bridges, and river improvements met the needs of business and industry, in the minds of 1920-style boosters, road and bridge improvements just as importantly served the growing population of motorists. The "good roads and bridges" movement promoted the plans of suburban businessmen and real estate developers anxious to expand the South Hills and North Hills as residential communities (Pittsburgh First, June 19, 1926; Pittsburgh First, October 2, 1926). Pittsburgh's suburban development proceeded at a feverish pace during the mid-1920s. From April 1924 to April 1925, total building construction in Pittsburgh increased by 17 percent and home building accounted for 47 percent of the new construction. One important locus of the new suburbanization lay in the city's South Hills section -- Mount Washington, Dormont, Bethel Park, Mount Lebanon, and Greentree.

Therefore, it is quite understandable that the cause of the West End-North Side Bridge would be championed by a person with business and sentimental interests in both the North Side and South Hills. Called the "Father of the West End-North Side Bridge," Henry Tranter (1865-1940) headed the firm of Tranter Manufacturing, located at 105 Fort Pitt Boulevard. The Tranter manufacturing plant sat on Water Street on the North Side and was "one of the best known machine shops and machine jobbers in the Pittsburgh area," according to Sylvester K. Stevens (Stevens 1969:1940-1949; Polk 1932). The Tranter firm produced mill, mine, and factory equipment, including pumps, boilers, engines, and hoists. Tranter's principal civil interest lay in the development of modern highway arteries and bridges. From 1915 until 1935, he chaired the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce's Highways and Bridges Committee. He also served on the Pittsburgh City Transit Commission. Although Tranter's main business concerns were located in the central city and on the North Side and, as an officer of the West End Savings and Trust Company and a director of the Security Savings and Loan of the West End, he had a strong interest in the future of the western section of the city. Moreover, as a lifelong resident of Greentree Borough -- his family had settled in the area in colonial times -- Tranter understandably had a proprietary interest in promoting the growth and development of his ancestral domain (Stevens 1969:1940-1949).

In a 1912 presentation before the West End Board of Trade, Tranter had urged the construction of a bridge crossing, connecting West End and North Side. Since 1880 or earlier, only a ferry service linked the two communities (Post Gazette, December 2, 1932; Hopkins 1890). In the mid-1920s, under the leadership of Tranter and J. G. Shaw, a North Side orator and historian, West End and North Side businessmen joined South Hills merchants and developers in promoting the West End-North Side Bridge (Herbertson 1970).

In 1923, Allegheny County blasted a tunnel through Mount Washington for the Liberty Tunnels and, in 1928, opened a high level bridge "to connect the north entrance of the tunnel directly with one of Pittsburgh's main automobile arteries at the fringe of the downtown section" (Campbell 1926:23). In 1926, the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce hailed the tunnel and the proposed Liberty Bridge project for opening up a section of the city "splendidly adapted for homes." Because of the tunnel, "homes and stores are springing up over a large area (of the South Hills)," observed the Chamber of Commerce in 1926, and "eventually . . . the territory will become the best residence section of Pittsburgh" (Campbell 1926:23).

Tranter's fervent belief that a bridge connection would bind the West End, North Side, and South Hills in a marriage of prosperity drove the campaign for the West End-North Side Bridge. After his 1912 speech, Tranter chaired the committee that was formed to urge the bridge's construction. Between 1912 and 1928, Tranter, the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, and the South Hills and North Borough Highway Association tied the West End Bridge project to another proposal for the building of the Saw Mill Run Boulevard. The tempo of agitation for the two projects intensified by the mid-1920s. In 1926, Tranter, who had also pressed for the construction of Banksville Road, the Perry Highway, and the Manchester Bridge, observed that:

"North Side . . . has long been developed and is a great factor in the industrial and business affairs of Pittsburgh. The southwest side has been developing by leaps and bounds during late years. For lack of transportation facilities they are widely separated and both work at a great disadvantage by that fact. The West End crossing bridge would bring them so closely together that their interest would be practically one (Pittsburgh First, June 19, 1926)."

According to Tranter, the West End-North Side Bridge would have a salutary effort on the regional economy and, with the Saw Mill Run Boulevard project, "would do more toward relieving the congested condition of the downtown district of the city than anything else before the people at the present time" (Greater Pittsburgh, October 2, 1926).

During the second half of the 1920s, Allegheny County sustained a vigorous pace of public works construction. Between 1924 and 1927, seven large county bridges were completed, spanning the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers alone (Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania 1930:13). While studies continued for a bridge crossing at the confluence of the three rivers, the county commissioners kept the public works bandwagon rolling and, in 1928, approved a whopping $43,680,000 "People's Bond Issue" for public works. The package of public works, funded by the bond issue, represented the fulfillment of Tranter's dream (Civic Club Minutes, June 1928). The approved projects included roads, bridges, and public buildings, among them the Saw Mill Run Boulevard, the McKees Rocks Bridge, the Allegheny River Boulevard, the Tenth Street Bridge rebuilding, and the West End-North Side Bridge. In addition, $2,550,000 was earmarked for the erection of a new county office building at Diamond and Ross streets, and $1,500,000 was budgeted for the Allegheny County Airport (Allegheny County Controller's Annual Report 1928:286-287). By January 1, 1930, the West End-North Side Bridge became one of 39 county bridges either under construction or awaiting action (Allegheny County Controller's Annual Report, December 31, 1930).

The West End-North Side Bridge project was part of the urban modernization process experienced by cities nationally in the 1920s. Like New York's parkways, Chicago's beltways, and Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway, it was part of a concerted effort to impose efficient traffic patterns on the gritty industrial city and to fit the city to function effectively in the automobile age. Clearly, the West End-North Side Bridge was a vital component in the Pittsburgh planner's scheme for an Inter-District Traffic Circuit that involved the Liberty Bridge, the Liberty Tunnels, the Saw Mill Run Boulevard, and Western Avenue on North Side. Undoubtedly, on a less technical level, the bridge fulfilled Tranter's dream of wedding the economies of North Side, West End, and South Hills (Pittsburgh First, June 19, 1926; Foster, 1979; Tarr, 1978).

C. Building the Bridge

The Allegheny County Commissioners' decision to build a bridge across such a commercially and strategically important navigable waterway in 1928 involved more than just Henry Tranter's exhortations and a set of blueprints prepared in the offices of the County Department of Public Works. Before securing a necessary charter for the bridge from the U. S. House and Senate, replete with the signature of President Herbert Hoover, the bridge plans had to first receive approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Secretary of War. Other less-esteemed agencies participated in the bridge approval process as well. For example, the Pennsylvania Water and Power Resources Board gave its assent, as did the county and city planning commissions, the City Art Commission, the Grand Jury, and the Allegheny County Court of Quarter Sessions (White and Von Benewitz 1928).

Therefore, the county commissioners' decision in 1928 to include the West End-North Side Bridge in their "People's Bond Issue" represented only a first step. It was not until November 1928 that County Commissioners Joseph Armstrong, E. V. Babcock, and Charles McGovern adopted a resolution directing the location, construction, and maintenance of the West End-North Side Bridge, "deeming it expedient for the purpose of accommodating public travel." The commissioners approved the bridge cost at $3,540,000 and, on December 9, 1929, the Allegheny Court of Quarter Sessions, having been assured that the notice of the bridge's imminent construction had been duly advertised in city newspapers, approved the bridge plan and ordered its construction. It was in September 1930 that the Allegheny County Bureau of Bridges, aided by the County Bureau of Architecture, accepted the bridge design (Allegheny County Controller's Annual Report, December 31, 1930; Allegheny County Bridge Docket, November 8, 1929; December 9, 1929; December 20, 1929).

Described as a "tied-arch" bridge, the West End-North Side span was designed by the Allegheny County Department of Public Works, Bureau of Bridges. Historically and technically, the bridge was the second long-span tied-arch bridge to be constructed in America. The first was the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge that spans the Delaware River in eastern Pennsylvania. The West End-North Side Bridge design features pre-stressed wire-rope hangers, a principle which disguises the massive weight of the bridge. Like the "string of a bow," the hangers put the stress of the bottom chord in tension with the main arch. It was also the first bridge to employ high strength silicon steel (U. S. Department of Interior, 1967).

Since this study focuses on the bridge's impact on the Chateau area on North Side, another aspect of the bridge's design warrants greater attention. In order to articulate traffic patterns efficiently between North Side and the Saw Mill Run Boulevard and the Lincoln Highway on West End, the bridge design raised Main and Steuben streets on West End to the upper bridge level, tying the bridge on grade to Carson Street. Connecting the high level bridge to the high grades on the southern and northern ends necessitated high level approaches. Therefore, on the southern end, three Warren half-through (pony) truss bridges approach the bridge from Carson Street. On the northern side, four Warren (pony) truss bridges approach the bridge from Western Avenue (Allegheny County Controller's Annual Report, December 31, 1939:252). While the truss bridge approach on the southern end crossed only the railroad tracks of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, on the northern side, the bridge approach cut through established industrial and residential property. Its route included the land adjoining Crucible Steel Company and land occupied by Rodgers Sand Company and the Stroh Steel Hardening Process (Allegheny County Department of Public Works, Bureau of Bridges, November 1929).

The July 17, 1984, "Final Environmental Impact Statement" (U.S. DOT) found that removal of the pony trusses would not affect the National Register of Historic Places qualities of the West End-North Side Bridge. However, it is clear that the relationship of the bridge to the history of improving the efficiency of Pittsburgh's traffic articulation, especially the engineering of street grades to conform with the bridge height, made the truss bridge approaches an integral part of the design. Viewed from a distance, the two Warren truss bridge approaches to the tied-arch main span create a somewhat symmetrical balance (U.S. DOT 1984:118).

On February 6, 1930, the county awarded the contract for the bridge construction of the giant stone substructure to the Foundation Company of New York. Eight months later, the county gave the contract for the superstructure to the American Bridge Company. While portions of the southern approach opened in advance of the bridge completion, the entire project opened officially with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on December 2, 1932, a full five months before the contracted date of completion (Allegheny County Controller's Annual Report, December 31, 1952; U. S. DOT 1984:118-125).


The building of the West End-North Side Bridge coincided with the crash of the New York Stock Market and the plunge of the American economy into the Great Depression. Instead of consolidating the economies of North Side, West End, and South Hills in a marriage of prosperity, as Henry Tranter believed it would, the bridge loomed over a region gripped by high unemployment and industrial inactivity. The Great Depression weakened the nineteenth century manufacturing economy of the Chateau area. Following World War II, the effects of both the restrictive immigration legislation of the 1920s and the social legislation of the New Deal reshaped the demographic and ethnic composition of the area. The Immigration Restriction Acts of 1924 and 1927 slowed the movement of new immigrants into the area's working-class neighborhoods. The Wagner Labor Relations Act of 1955, the Federal Housing Administration Act of 1934 and the post-World War II veterans' mortgage program spurred the migration of second generation Polish, Italian, and Lithuanian-Americans to the "cool, green-rim" of suburbia. What these mobile white ethnics left behind in Manchester and Chateau area was the aging industrial plant and often ramshackle housing, These are the urban characteristics that University of Chicago sociologist Ernest Burgess labeled the "zone of emergency" (Goldfield and Brownell, 1979; Park and Burgess, 1967).

Considering the trauma of the Great Depression, and the significant social, economic, and physical changes transforming urban America after World War II, it is difficult to determine what particular effect the building of the West End-North Side Bridge had upon the Chateau area. By 1960, Manchester's Chateau area had mouldered in the shadow of the four elevated pony truss bridges for nearly three decades. Not only had industry in the area languished or migrated to the suburban fringe of the city, but the population composition had also changed. Displacement of the city's black population, as a result of the lower Hill District renewal in the mid-1950s, forced many black families to migrate to the available low rent, graying housing of Manchester. The social and racial composition of the Chateau area had changed considerably by 1960 when blacks comprised 32 percent of the population. At the same time, only 22 percent of the Chateau area population was of "foreign stock," compared with 57 percent in 1930. It was also an area of poverty. In 1960, almost 40 percent of the work force earned less than $4,000 a year (Bureau of the Census, 1960).

In 1961, the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) spotlighted Manchester for a comprehensive slum clearance and redevelopment project. The URA slated the Chateau area as the site for massive clearance and the development of an industrial park to house light industry. Although most of the old alley housing and two-story worker homes were demolished in the wave of redevelopment, by 1985 little had been built to replace the cleared structures. Most of the development activity taking place in the shadow of the West End-North Side Bridge had been undertaken by the developer, Tom Mistick and Sons. The Misticks' Allegheny Millworks occupies both sides of Belmont Street. Their offices occupy a historically preserved mill building on Western Avenue, and evidence of their handiwork can be seen in the preservation of the Rodgers Sand warehouse on Ridge Avenue. Indeed, it might be argued that the Misticks are perpetuating a tradition of building and supply first begun when Rodgers Sand bought the Benson Pump site in 1903 and turned it into a builders' supply emporium.

In 1985, the work of Tom Mistick and Sons, the Manchester Community Center, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, and other neighborhood organizations promises to give the Manchester district and the Chateau area a second chance for glory. The four pony truss bridges that saw the area's demise will be replaced by new bridge approaches and ramps that will connect North Side, West End, and South Hills more effectively than the present structure. Perhaps, then, Henry Tranter's dream of 60 years ago will be fulfilled.

Page 1 of 2   --   Next Page

Page created:
Last modified: 07-Oct-1999

Historic American Engineeering Record (HAER) Text: William P. McHugh, Ph. D.; GAI Consultants, Inc.; 1985