One of the most important architectural sites on the East River is turning 100 years old. Borough Reporter Ruschell Boone has more on the Hell Gate Bridge and its significance to the city and one Queens community.
It’s one of the city’s iconic structures, and a symbol of Astoria Queens. The Hell Gate Bridge has been the backdrop to movies like the comedy “Queens Logic” and the 1973 classic “Serpico”.
For the people who live here, the bridge has a different role as a centerpiece of so many memories.
“It represents time spent with my family at Astoria Park. In the summertime my father always took us down there to cool off,” said Debbie van Cura, a lifelong Astoria resident.
Named after the treacherous straight of roiling waters and dangerous rocks in the East River, Hell Gate opened in 1917 and was built to link the New York and the Pennsylvania Railroad to New England – an engineering marvel.
“If you notice the towers themselves give you an idea that the bridge is anchored to them, but in reality the towers are really there for show. The lower arch bears the entire weight of the bridge,” explained Bob Singleton, President of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
Its construction was so precise that when the last section of the main span was lifted into place, the final adjustment needed to join everything together was just 5⁄16 of an inch. The bridge now is a crucial link in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and a route for freight trains traveling between Queens and the Bronx.
“People have said if people should suddenly vanish from NYC this would be the last thing left standing,” Singleton said.
Over the years the bridge has had minor repairs, but a paint job in the 1990’s tarnished its image.
“They came up with a new color called Hell Gate Red, which is a very bright red. Unfortunately bright red colors does not age very well in the sunlight and it’s kind of faded a little bit,” Singleton pointed out.
But in the eyes of many in Astoria the bridge still shines bright as a long standing fabric of the community.