Sal Coppola went for his daily walk through Astoria Park on Monday right after a storm had passed, offering him that clear look at Hell Gate Bridge, and its hulking beauty, which he’s admired all his life.
“It’s magnificent,” said Coppola, 71, who was born and raised in Astoria and remembers friends illegally scaling the bridge in his youth. “It’s really a marvel of engineering.”
Located over the East River’s turbulent tidal strait bearing its name, the Hell Gate can be seen from three boroughs. But it is an icon of Astoria. Residents read, jog and bike under its massive approach, which soars over the neighborhood’s two-story townhouses. Local schoolchildren come to paint its image for art class.
“The entire Hell Gate complex goes through parks, industrial areas. This is the only place where the bridge actually goes through a neighborhood,” said Bob Singleton, the executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society. “You’re hard pressed to find any family in Astoria that does not have a portrait with the Hell Gate in the background.”
The Hell Gate, a railroad bridge that serves as a key connection between Boston and Washington, part of the Northeast rail corridor, turned 100 years old this year. April 1 will mark a century since the first passenger trains crossed its span.
The historical society celebrated the centennial on Monday at its headquarters. There was a sparkling apple cider toast and a chocolate cake.