With 40-story tall Gothic Cathedral Spires and graceful arches, the 7,360-ton steel St. Johns Bridge, which spans the Willamette River, was almost lost. Opened in 1931, it is the largest and most significant suspension bridge in Oregon. After years of neglect and deferred maintenance, engineers discovered that chunks of the concrete roadway and walkway were breaking off and falling 205 feet to the river below.
David Steinman began designing the bridge in 1928 and work began the next year. Steinman engineered 20 bridges in 1928, and throughout his career, he engineered nearly 400 spans before his death in 1960. He is quoted as saying “If you were to ask me which bridge I love best, I would have to say the St. Johns. I put more of myself into it than any other bridge.”
The St. Johns Bridge is 3,834 long, not including the approaches, the main span is 1,207 feet long and the side spans are 430 feet long. The Gothic towers stand 409 feet above the water. Construction began on Sept. 3, 1929 and it opened on June 13, 1931 with a total construction bond of $4.2 million. When it was completed, it was the longest suspension bridge west of Detroit. Before tackling the St. Johns Bridge, Steinman was finishing the largest suspension bridge in New England, the Mount Hope in Rhode Island.
Portland is known for its historic bridges and Oregon maintains over 200 historic bridges throughout the state. Not only was the construction of the bridge an amazing feat, but getting it funded was an amazing feat as well. Residents near Fremont Street wanted a bridge and so did several other more affluent neighborhoods. The blue-collar workers in St. Johns who operated sawmills, an ironworks, shipyards and a woolen mill had very little political clout.