2019 – Collections: The George Washington Bridge
(ignore May 1, 2017 publish date – this was published on December 26, 2019)
After posting about a not-very-serious collection (and before I make the next not-very-serious collection post), it’s time to stick a real one in here.
I’ve always loved the GWB and have photographed it quite often from myriad angles. As I got more into local history in general in the 90s, I started focusing on the bridge in particular.
As Mr. eBay in the late 90s-early 2000s, I snapped up every GWB-related item I found interesting. Besides the hundreds of postcards that were available, I found lots of other things I had no idea even existed.
And they’re all below (after a week of scanning).
Wikipedia tells me that the idea of a cross-Hudson River bridge between NYC and NJ has been around since 1906. The first serious one I have is this 2-sided 1921 proposal for an absolute monstrosity from Manhattan to Jersey City that would accommodate cars, trolleys and trains.
FOLLOW THIS PROCEDURE FOR MOST ENLARGEABLE IMAGES:
Click on the image. Hover the cursor over the image. If it becomes a plus sign, click on the image again. This is the largest it’ll get and you may have to do some scrolling to see everything. TO GO BACK: the cursor is now a minus sign. Click the image to get to the initial enlargement, then click your back button to get back to normal.
This postcard from the same time period refers to it as the “West Jersey Bridge”:
This double-clickable 1926 proposal was the first I have for a Fort Lee-to-Washington Heights location. It was another massive structure and it would have faster traffic (cars) on the upper level and slower traffic (trucks, trains, etc.) on the lower level:
The Fort Lee location was eventually picked because the Hudson River was the narrowest at this point.
The two commemorative medals are about 1¼” in diameter and the pinback/flag is about 3” in length.
The first medal is from a 1925 testimonial dinner for influential Bergen County Senator William B. Mackay, who is referred to as “the father of the first NJ-NY Hudson River Bridge”.
The two September 21,1927 ground-breaking ceremonies items have different names for the bridge: “Interstate Hudson River Bridge” and “Fort Lee Bridge”.
“BERGEN COUNTY SONG”
With construction now underway, it was obvious that Bergen County stood to be the biggest beneficiary. It was comparatively sparsely-populated farmland that would soon become VERY populated.
One organization to which this was extremely obvious was the Bergen County Chamber of Commerce. A County resident – Henry I. Marshall – wrote “Bergen County Song” in 1929 and dedicated it to the Chamber of Commerce.
I found all this out when I located (and bought) sheet music for the song. The cover features the bridge’s original design along with what appear to be two ridiculously-large parts of Alps-like mountains in the New Jersey background.
The bridge is referred to on the cover as the “Interstate Hudson River Bridge”. My scanner cut off slivers of the sides and the publisher’s address (1595 Broadway, NYC) on the bottom.
I scanned every page, so besides the covers, all the music and corny lyrics are here in case you want play it as a sing-along at your next party (especially if you don’t want your guests to come back to subsequent parties).
The first image shows the front and back covers. The two after that show the four song pages.
Follow the double-enlargement procedure:
THE ORIGINAL DESIGN
These four PCs are all from the late 20s/early 30s and show the original design of the bridge. It was supposed to be clad in granite, but two things nixed that:
– The Great Depression began in 1929 and the money for extravagances dried up.
– People liked the look of the unclad metal framework better.
Smart people. The look is timeless and the original, expensive design looks pretty dated to me.
The top two cards show the New York and the New Jersey approaches to the bridge. The bottom two show the bridge with Riverside Drive in Manhattan (looks like a dirt road) and the New York bridge base, whose sign says,
Hudson River Bridge
being built by
The Port of New York Authority
I CAN’T SELL YOU THE BRIDGE…..HOW ABOUT SOME CHEAP NEARBY LAND INSTEAD ?
I had never seen this offer before nor have I seen one since……………and I have five of them (that’s how it was sold):
You can tell – especially from the second picture – that some serious digging into the Palisades still needs to be done before the Jersey approach lines up with the bridge’s roadway.
This is a long image, so follow the double-click procedure to see and read everything at its largest:
“NOT FOR USE IN WESTERN HEMISPHERE”?
Great picture, but the description is horrible.
It sure looks like it’s the bridge’s Opening Day to me, but instead of mentioning that rather important fact, it just lists all the boilerplate stuff that was on every other early Bridge publicity document……………..and oh-by-the-way………..”NOT FOR USE IN WESTERN HEMISPHERE”???
What the hell is THAT about?
As a professional photographer, I’ve seen many restrictions placed on (or attached to) photographs, but I’ve never encountered a ban of such magnitude on ANY photo before.
And what is the approval-giving “APPROPRIATE U.S. AUTHORITY”? Not very specific, are they……
EARLY 1930s POSTCARDS
The first card shows no bridge roadway yet, so that’s the earliest of the three. I originally thought that the PC below it was from 1930 (the white borders generally mean 1915-1930………….but not always).
I think I have to add at least 5 years because there seems to be a bright beacon atop the NY tower and the Post-Rogers Memorial Beacon was dedicated in late 1935 (famed aviator Wiley Post and humorist Will Rogers died in a plane crash in Alaska three months earlier).
As for the third card, it appears to show the original bridge design, so I’ll stick with 1930:
1931,32 COMMEMORATIVE ENVELOPES
1. Louis Hoebel – Mayor of Fort Lee – sent this October 24, 1931-postmarked (the day the GWB was officially dedicated and opened) GWB/Fort Lee commemorative envelope to the Assistant Superintendent of Delivery at the New York General Post office. It’s probably one of MANY he had to send that day because getting these usually-empty, sealed commemorative envelopes with “DAY OF” postmarks was a big deal back then. I just noticed that all the black lettering and design in the lower left is shiny and raised.
2. 1932 was celebrated in Fort Lee because it was not only THEIR bicentennial, but it was also the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth………….you know – the guy whose troops occupied the town in 1776 and then got their big bridge named for him.
3. The last one seems like a bit of a stretch as far as commemorations go. It commemorates the LAST DAY of the Washington Bicentennial and was postmarked December 31, 1932 at the Washington Bridge Station in New York. I wonder if there was a wild celebration in early January 1933 in Northville, Michigan when C.M. Chase received this prize.
MORE 1931/1932 ITEMS
If you’re from this area, this map is very interesting. It’s also the only item of the three that’s actually from 1931,32. More on this map after I take care of the other two items shown:
The stamps commemorate the “Centennial Of Engineering” (1852-1952) and prominently show the GWB. It only misses 1932 by 20 years (but DOES include it!). Here they are blown up:
The third item shows no year whatsoever, but it has yellowed enough to be from 1931,32. (I think this group was what was left over after putting everything else in year groups)
Now on to that map…………
It’s really a guide to navigating locally from the new GWB. It shows the highways and main streets in different towns, but the reason you needed it was because the highways were only partially built.
If you can find Route 4 coming off the bridge, it’s only built as far as Englewood. To get to Hackensack, you have to get off 4 at Engle St, take that to Forest Ave and make a left all the way to its end in Teaneck, where you’d take a left on Queen Anne Rd to Cedar Lane and a right into Hackensack.
As you’ll see in the image after the map (and the booklet cover), red highways mean they’re built and usable, white are unbuilt and red Xs mean those parts will open by February 1932.
The map is another large, double-clickable image. It’s also a photo stitch with one noticeable glitch: Palisade Ave in Englewood shows an unfortunate (and non-existent) break between Engle St and 9W.
Note: “Route 6” is what we know as Route 46. If you see “Route 2”, that’s Route 17, and “Fort Lee Turnpike” is now Main St in Bogota, Fort Lee Rd in Teaneck and Leonia and Main St in Fort Lee (Oops! Just noticed another glitch on that “Turnpike” in Leonia):
STUPID HUMAN TRICKS: ERROR POSTCARDS
There’s only one of those in this group. Just read the captions:
MORE EXCITING COMMEMORATIVE ENVELOPES (I’m being facetious)
The first one is the aforementioned Post-Rogers Beacon, postmarked on the day of dedication. Despite the depiction of the beacon as being in the middle of the bridge – where it would do absolutely no good on the cables’ lowest point while it blinds drivers – it sits atop the New York tower.
“National Air Mail Week”: I’ve seen hundreds of these commemorating God-knows-what. They’ve never made any sense to me.
About 7 years before he became president, General Dwight Eisenhower was commemorated on a Washington Bridge Station-postmarked envelope one month and 11 days after the official end of WWII:
1930s to 1960s GWB postcards
The top left one shows a 1930s view of the NJ approach. The top right one……….WHAT? You don’t know about the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge? Google it – quite interesting. There’s even a 1942 child’s book about it and its big gray neighbor which you can find on YouTube.
The bottom two inform about the 1962 opening of the “Martha” (Lower Level) and the 1963 opening of the GWB Bus Station:
ODDS & ENDS (click once to enlarge a bit)
Top left: an official 1964 World’s Fair/GWB card
Top right: A busy (or lazy) person’s correspondence card
Bottom left: I thought only the Brooklyn Bridge was bought this way
Bottom right: This is the earliest of the bunch (no bridge roadway yet). As you can probably tell from the black material in the photo’s upper left, this was ripped out of someone’s photo album and sold:
THE BIG MEDALLIONS – EVERY 50 YEARS (so far)
These are both about 3″ in diameter. On the left are the two sides of the original 1931 commemorative medallion for the dedication ceremony of the GWB. On the right is what was issued in 1981 for the 50th anniversary:
The latter shows its original color at the very bottom of the top right image. Because it sits in a wooden holder and has gotten blasted by the sun every morning for the last two decades, the rest of it has darkened considerably. Maybe I should have turned it around so the unimaginative reverse darkened instead.
THE SILVER TRAY
Well, it’s silver-looking anyway. Don’t know when it was made, but it’s after 1935 because the beacon is atop the NY tower. I have another of these trays that’s turned black and is fairly brittle. They’re both 7.5” x 5.25”:
THE 60’ X 90’ US FLAG IN THE 1940s
The cars looks 40s-ish, but they could be early 50s (I’m too young to know for sure):
THE CUTE GIRL NEXT DOOR – THE RIVIERA NIGHTCLUB
Do yourself a favor and google this place in Fort Lee………..it’s WAY too much for me to write about here. EVERYBODY who was anybody went there. It’s a shame it had to be torn down to make way for the Palisade Interstate Parkway (one PIP replaces another!).
This is the front of the souvenir folder, followed by the contents (photo of unidentified couple) with the back cover info (the price) superimposed on the bottom:
This is an actual chip from the Riviera Casino. What other gambling establishment would put a picture of the GWB on it?
The Riviera menu cover:
Here’s what’s on the menu that has a September 1, 1946 (a Sunday) date on it. This is a large image, so do the double-enlargement steps outlined earlier so you can read everything – especially the prices:
3” X 7/8” ACRYLIC GWB+BUS STATION DISC (post-1963)
The title says it all (and it’s too light to be a paperweight):
PRE-AUGUST 1970 NJ APPROACHES TO THE GWB
Originally, I had no idea when this picture might have been taken. The only clue I could find was that the tollbooths for both directions are shown and tolls became eastbound-only on August 12, 1970. Of course, this could have been taken for some time after that until the westbound tollbooths were actually torn down, but this guess is close enough:
SPEAKING OF TOLLS 1
According to Wiki, these are the tolls rates since the GWB opened in 1931:
I’m not sure, but there may have been another rate increase since 2015.
SPEAKING OF TOLLS 2
Around the turn of this century, I came across this neat item on eBay and really wanted to add it to the collection. I tried my best, but someone outbid me for it.
But it may not have been the loss I thought it was. According to the Wiki toll rate list above, the toll on the GWB was never $2.50. So either there are other GWBs in the US or this is a fake created to deceive collectors. If my initial interest in it makes me a fool, at least I know there’s a much bigger one out there who paid a lot of money for it while I didn’t lose a cent:
THE 1976 GWB ART EXHIBIT
What a great shot! Follow double-click procedure to enlarge:
MODERN MARVELS: THE GWB
Do you remember a series on the History Channel called “Modern Marvels”? It ran from 1992 to 2015.
In 2004, when they started production on an episode about the GWB, they contacted the president of the Bergen County Historical Society, Robert Griffin, whom they knew would be a wellspring of information and documentation.
Bob Griffin is a friend of mine and was aware of my GWB collection. He suggested they contact me as well. They did.
I sent them whatever seemed to fit their requests and wound up with something used on the show. Both Bob and I have a contributor’s credit on the show and the producers sent us both a tape of the episode on August 30, 2004:
On September 1, 2004, the show aired (Season 11 – Episode 34). I recall trying to figure out what was mine. I saw a couple of possibilities, but still don’t know what actual item of mine they used.
FOUR OTHER GWB PHOTOS
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, I’ve photographed the GWB a lot……but so have many other people. I’m sure we each like to think that our photos are unique, but the truth is that many of our shots wind up being similar to everyone else’s.
So – I’m gonna show four GWB images of mine that I think are truly unique – that I’ve never seen from anyone else…………..EVER.
They cover a span of 37 years, which means that I take a good shot once every 9 years.
Sequentially, they are:
July 5, 1982 – I was sitting in the back right seat of a four-seater seaplane that took off from the Hackensack River/Overpeck Creek area in Ridgefield Park. I was shooting what I could of Manhattan from the World Trade Center and north. I had hoped the pilot would be flying over the GWB so I could get some straight-down traffic and tower shots, but he started to make a left turn well before the bridge.
Rather than uselessly complain about his normal commercial flight path (and miss this shot), I saw an opportunity to get a full shot of the bridge (AND the river AND the Palisades AND two states AND two boats) from a just-high-enough elevated position.
November 11, 2011 – I’m underneath the bridge at ground level by the river and shooting straight up. This 11-11-11 Veterans Day was VERY windy and the largest hanging US flag – which is usually vertical – was temporarily blown completely horizontal. I have NEVER seen a shot like this before!
January 30, 2014 – This was taken from the Fort Lee Historic Park right next to the bridge, where LOTS of people take GWB shots.
I’m pretty sure the lights of the bridge’s necklace have never been orange and green before (or since), but for a week or so before the 2014 Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos (orange) and the Seattle Seahawks (green) at MetLife Stadium, they were.
Nobody was there the night I was. The park was closed to cars, but you could take the long, unlit hike up if you wanted to on a VERY cold night, so I did and this was my reward.
I’ve seen a few other pictures of this…………..nothing special (he says snobbily). By the way – that’s the Post-Rogers beacon you see shining atop the tower. Bonus!
THE GWB FROM HOME!
I’ve been working on this post for two weeks and it just so happens that I’m finishing up the writing on Christmas Day, 2019. As of the day before, there were only going to be three pictures in this section, but I happened to get up on Christmas morning just before the sun showed its face and took the below picture that shows something that’s 5 or 6 miles away that I can only see when the foliage is off the trees:
I took this at 7:25am. If you look just above my watermark, you can see part of the New Jersey tower of the GWB and part of one of its cables. You can also see the sun beginning to rise behind it……..what fortunate timing!
I KNOW nobody else has this shot from this perspective (my living room), so I immediately added it to my most unique GWB shots.
This may be the adult equivalent of a kid getting up on Christmas morning and seeing Santa’s gifts, except Nature is Santa and the gift unwrapped itself before my eyes.
SPEAKING OF WRAPPING, CAN WE WRAP THIS POST UP, BOB?
Chure, man. Here’s the perfect ending:
While digging through all this GWB stuff, I found some buried treasure signed by artist Rick London when I acquired it in 2004.
What better way is there to end a post about THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE than showing……………