In one of several ceremonies held to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Bayonne Bridge, members of the Bayonne Historic Society placed a wreath at the Fourth Street landing on Nov. 4, acknowledging the symbolic importance the bridge has played in the modern history of the city.
At 325 feet tall, the Bayonne Bridge connects the southern most tip of Hudson County with Staten Island in the anticipation that the bridge would handle the increasing level of traffic bound for New York City.
While the bridge did eventually live up to its promises, the collapse of the stock market and the nation’s plunge into The Great Depression, followed by World War II, delayed the fulfillment of the original dream.
Historically, the Bayonne Bridge became even more significant in the early 1960s when the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and two further south in Staten Island, formed a link that allowed drivers to access Brooklyn and Long Island and other parts of New Jersey.
In 1966, ridership over the bridge exceeded 3 million for the first time. In 1980, it saw about 4.4 million. Last year, the bridge saw 7.7 million vehicles, although that is far less than 107 vehicles that use the George Washing Bridge. In 2005, Bayonne Bridge was digitally blown in the making of Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.”
Mayor Joseph Doria, however, noted that the bridge soon became the symbol of the city itself, its steel a sign of the industrial strength of the city.
“Now it will become a symbol of a new Bayonne, as our city changes from a city of industry to a city of growth,” Doria said.
On Nov. 4, members of the Historic Society began a daylong celebration that included a recreation of the original dedication – which was conducted on Nov. 14, 1931 when more than 6,000 people gathered to watch the original ceremony.
Society President Lee Fahley and Treasurer Michael K. Kostelnik led walkers halfway across the bridge where they placed the wreath on the Fourth Street landing, an observation deck that overlooks the Kill Van Kull.
A short time later, a 1931 Rolls Royce rolled onto the bridge carrying the daughter of Swiss-born architect Othmar Amman, and Veronica Granite – the girl who proposed the bridge be decked out in red, white and blue lights in remembrance of the victims of 9/11.
This was a symbolic gesture, marking the moment when Lucius Donohoe, then mayor of Bayonne, drove first across the span in his 1928 Rolls Royce at 5 a.m. the morning after the ribbon cutting, the first of 17,018 vehicles and nearly 7,000 pedestrians to cross during its first full day of operations.
For the Nov. 4 event – which more than 100 people attended – Kostelnik said, the Rolls Royce traveled to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Administration Building for the dedication of a bronze plaque, a replica of a plaque that the Historical Society will be placing on a stone pedestal in Dennis Collins Park. Kostelnik also led a group of about 70 people for a walk across the bridge for the ceremony.
Jerry Del Tufo, who manages the bridge for the Port Authority, accepted a miniature of the plaque from Gerard Nowicki, who serves as event organizers and trustee of the Historical Society.
Del Tufo, at an earlier event, predicted the Bayonne Bridge would likely serve as Bayonne’s symbol for another 75 years or more.
Although opened the same year as the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge was recognized by The American Institute of Steel Construction as the most beautiful steel bridge of 1931.
The historical society also read excerpts from Donohoe’s original speech and later held a luncheon at Chris’ Corner Restaurant where Del Tufo was guest speaker.