Friday, August 29, 2008

John McLoughlin Bridge, Clackamas River

John McLoughlin Bridge

John McLoughlin Bridge


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My semi-ongoing bridge-wandering project took me down to Oregon City the other day to check out the pretty, but sadly run down, Oregon City Bridge. On my way back, I thought I'd stop briefly and check out a second bridge nearby. This is the Dr. John McLoughlin Memorial Bridge, which carries Highway 99E over the Clackamas River.

John McLoughlin Bridge

I didn't really have high hopes for it, and I almost didn't stop. I vaguely knew there was a bridge here, but it's a busy street and not a very big river, and there's no big "oh, cool" moment while driving over it, if it registers at all. It didn't really sound like it would be very interesting, but I was in the neighborhood (for once), so I figured what the heck, I'd just stop for a few minutes and take a quick peek.

John McLoughlin Bridge

Turns out the bridge is rather nice, actually. The McLoughlin bridge dates back to 1933, and sports some nice Art Deco touches and has a light, open and airy feel to it. There's no bike lane, but the sidewalk seems wider than nearly all other bridges in town, and there's a guardrail (plus the structure of the bridge itself) between you and vehicle traffic. There's even an attractive view of the Clackamas River. It's really a very cool river. If, like many Portlanders, you turn up your nose at it because of the word "Clackamas" in the name, you're really missing out.

So it's kind of too bad it's not somewhere where it'd be more useful to me. I'm very rarely down in Oregon City, and I don't think I've ever actually stopped in Gladstone even once for any purpose, so walking between the two, just not a very common occurrence.

Clackamas River from John McLoughlin Bridge

John McLoughlin Bridge

You might've noticed I didn't bother with the "not dying" bit in the title. The bridge itself is pretty decent, and the "not dying" theme just sort of doesn't work. Quite honestly, if you're walking or biking along Highway 99E, the bridge is probably the safest spot for miles around. On either side, it's wall-to-wall mini-malls, no bike lanes, narrow sidewalks with lots of curb cuts, people tend to be driving large trucks and SUVs, and they don't expect you to be there. So just stay on the freakin' bridge, and you'll be fine, probably.

Clackamas River from John McLoughlin Bridge

The Structurae page about the bridge has more photos, including a cool award plaque for being named "Most Beautiful Steel Bridge, Class C" in 1933 by something called the American Institute of Steel Construction, which still exists -- although it looks like the prize stuff is now handled by a related organization called the National Steel Bridge Alliance. Their online list of awards only dates back to 1996, unfortunately, but I do see that the St. Johns Bridge renovation project won a prize in 2007. Strictly speaking, the McLoughlin bridge received an "award of merit", which seems to be one tier down from a "prize" in steel bridge parlance. But still. An award's an award.

John McLoughlin Bridge

Here's a 1933 color photo of the bridge when it was new. Looks pretty much the same, doesn't it? Wikimedia has a photo of the bridge from a different angle than mine, and you can see the 3 arch structure a bit better there.

There's also a confusing mention of the bridge in Best Places Portland:

More interesting [than the Interstate Bridge] is the OREGON CITY BRIDGE (1922). The only Portland-area span designed by Conde McCullough, this 745-foot arch bridge features fluted Art Deco main piers and hammered inset panels. Just north, McCullough's McLoughlin Bridge has been rated the most beautiful steel bridge of its kind in the U.S.


So first we learn that the Oregon City Bridge is the only McCullough bridge in town, and in the very next sentence we're told the McLoughlin bridge is his too. Go figure.

John McLoughlin Bridge

Other than that, there really isn't too much to say about the bridge. It has a cameo in a gory, unsolved 1940s murder case, in which part of the body was found near the bridge. Seriously, I'm not kidding about the gory part.

John McLoughlin Bridge

So does this mean I'm expanding the bridge-moseying project beyond Willamette River bridges? Well, no, or mostly no. I keep talking about the two Columbia River bridges, and I'll probably end up doing those at some point, eventually. And now that I stare at the map a little, it turns out there really aren't very many bridges over the Clackamas River. There's this one, obviously. There's a rail bridge and a bridge for I-205 further upstream that I think we can file under "not safe for pedestrians". There's also an old bridge around 82nd Drive near the High Rocks area that's supposed to be for bikes and pedestrians, but I understand it's been closed since 2006 due to a fire and subsequent insurance litigation. There are more bridges further upstream, around Carver, Barton Park, Estacada, and beyond, but I'm ok with filing those as "outside the Portland area". As in, maybe, if I'm in the area anyway, and it seems "interesting", and I'm in the mood for it, but it's a very low priority. In other words, I think this may be the only Clackamas River bridge that's within any reasonable project scope. So I'm going to go ahead and declare Mission Accomplished on river #2. Hooray, or whatever.

John McLoughlin Bridge

John McLoughlin Bridge

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