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The Margaret Hunt Hill Is A Brooklyn Bridge For Dallas? Sorry, Get Your Local History Straight

cockrell bridge
Sarah Cockrell's bridge, which replaced ferry service across the Trinity operated by John Neely Bryan (sorry John)

Something has been bothering me about the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge ever since I read this post by Jason last week. In it, Lynn McBee, a “super-fundraiser” who is helping with this weekend’s opening celebration for the new Calatrava-designed bridge, compares the impact the bridge will have on the western portion of the city to that of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Sigh Let’s jump.

For the past week, while driving across Continental Ave. Bridge, or sitting in traffic on I-30, or riding the bus over the Houston St. Viaduct, or meandering through the parking lot construction (whoopee!) on Singleton, I’ve been muttering David Byrne’s unofficial anthem of the bridge opening (“Same as it ever was”) and trying to figure out why McBee’s comment bothered me so much.

Then, making my way over Commerce Street Bridge yesterday, it hit me. The problem with comparing the MHH with the Brooklyn Bridge is that it betrays an egregious dismissal (ignorance?) of Dallas’ own history.

Dallas already built its “Brooklyn Bridge;” it was the Commerce Street Bridge, built in 1855 by Alexander Cockrell and replaced with a suspension bridge (pictured) in 1872 by his wife, Sarah (a historical model of the kind of philanthropic businesswomen, like McBee, that this city prides itself on). It’s been upgraded since then, of course, but that bridge, like the Brooklyn Bridge, replaced ferry traffic between the east and west banks of the Trinity and allowed for increased settlement and commercial development on the western side of the river.

The Brooklyn Bridge opened up New York’s second largest borough to Manhattan; West Dallas has been open to Dallas for more than a century. Some of it is quite lovely; other parts have been shamefully neglected, not because of the lack of transportation infrastructure, but because of a historical legacy of social and political ineptitude. So, will newer, shinier transportation infrastructure change that area’s future? I’m a skeptic, but you can argue about that in the comments.

For now, as we get all excited about this Friday’s high-class shindig and Saturday’s street party on a bridge built for cars, let’s just keep ol’ Sarah Cockrell in mind. Call the new bridge a “Manhattan Bridge,” a “Triborough” — hell, a “Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.” But, please, have some respect for this city’s own history: it’s not our Brooklyn Bridge.

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10 comments on “The Margaret Hunt Hill Is A Brooklyn Bridge For Dallas? Sorry, Get Your Local History Straight

  1. The 1872 bridge “pictured” in this story is not a suspension bridge as mentioned. It’s best categorized as a bowstring truss bridge, sometimes referred to as a “bowstring arched truss” or a “bowstring arch”, but always categorized by the combination of the truss and arch visual forms.

  2. Actually, the Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 1883, connected the independent cities of New York (on Manhattan Island) and Brooklyn (on Long Island). Brooklyn was consolidated into New York City fiteen years later, in 1898. If you care.

  3. Maybe Lynne McBee didn’t mean it as a literal connection to West Dallas, but more of a visual (or even spiritual, emotional, etc.) connection across the river.

  4. In Dallas, where past, present and future matter, the Calatrava Bridge is a dumb-looking addition to the city. It looks like a bowed sewer line in an East Texas trailer park.

  5. Watch Ken Burns’ documentary, “Brooklyn Bridge” outdoors at Bridge-o-Rama. Released in 1981, this documentary was nominated for the Academy Award and then broadcast on PBS. In celebration of VideoFest’s 25th Anniversary, the Video Association of Dallas screens this classic film, which offers interviews with those who helped construct the bridge, and details about the difficulties they encountered. Sat., Mar. 3, 7 p.m., Ben E. Keith Stage, 312 Singleton Ave.

  6. sorry but the Houston St viaduct had a greater impact on the city than the Calatrava bridge ever will

  7. I believe that tomorrow is the 140th anniversary of the opening of Sara Cockrell’s iron bridge.

  8. Very well stated, and very funny. I’m a Dallas ex-patriat retired in San Francisco where there sometimes seems like there are nothing but bridges. Godd for you Dallas, for getting a swanky bridge!