Magnolia Bridge, New Orleans

Most likely the oldest existing bridge in New Orleans, this iron structure crosses Bayou St. John from Harding Drive (the neighborhood once called Magnolia Gardens) to Cabrini High School.

Built in the late 19th century, when the bayou was still a commercial channel, this structure was made to handle heavy tonnage and originally included a streetcar track. It was a swing bridge, pivoting at its center to allow commercial vessels, barges and houseboats to pass. The turning mechanism was deactivated when the bayou lost its status as a navigable waterway in 1936.

The Magnolia Bridge functioned as a vehicular roadway until the 1970s, at which time balustrades were installed to block traffic. Since that time it has been heavily used by pedestrians, bicyclists, dog walkers and baby strollers, and has provided a beautiful backdrop for weddings, sunset repasts, and neighborhood socializing.

Since 2005 the Louisiana Landmarks Society has announced an annual list of endangered historic treasures called the New Orleans Nine, and in 2011 the Magnolia Bridge was included on this list. Modeled after the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered program, the New Orleans Nine are determined each year by a prestigious panel of preservationists, historians, and community members. Criteria for consideration include the site’s historical, architectural, and cultural value, the severity of the threat facing it, and the degree of community support for saving it. The Magnolia Bridge clearly scored strongly on each of these criteria.

The bridge anchors one of New Orleans’ most iconic street and waterscapes with its proximity to the gleaming dome of Holy Rosary Church (1907), the historically significant barge-board residences, and both the Spanish Customs House (1784) and the Pitot House (1799).

There have been two structural renovations in the 130 years since the bridge was constructed, one in 1936 and the other in 1961. These efforts included repair and replacement of corroded stringers and end-posts, and replacement of deteriorated decking. Details of the scope and design for both of these renovations are archived at the New Orleans Public Library.

Current Status: In 2011 Re-Bridge partnered with the Regional Planning Commission (RPC) and secured an $844,400 grant from the DOTD for restoration of the Magnolia Bridge; this grant will be utilized in the Construction phase of the project and requires a 5% match. In 2012 the Environmental and Historic phase was completed, funded largely by the RPC, with $13,400 in matching funds from Re-Bridge. The next step is Engineering Design, which will be funded by the RPC with matching funds from the City of New Orleans. Re-Bridge is ready to commit an additional $10,000 to this phase if needed.

Today, the Magnolia Bridge is rusted and peeling, with much of the iron work corroded to various degrees.

A feasibility study conducted in early 2011 detailed a comprehensive report of the physical deficiencies of the Magnolia Bridge, laid out recommended corrective actions, and presented a preliminary budget. The condition of the bridge was found to be fairly poor, clearly indicating the immediate need for both repair and restoration work.

Problem of Rust

Highlights of the bridge inspection include:

  • Lead paint is present
  • Paint failure has allowed for heavy corrosion, section loss, and pack rust
  • Many areas of lattice have rusted through and are missing
  • One of the decorative finials is missing
  • Decking is damaged and unsafe
  • Wing walls on both sides are deteriorated and cracked
  • Approaches on both sides are cracked
  • Harding Street side (west side) approach slab has severe erosion and undermining
  • West side has areas of 100% section loss from cover plates over fascia beams
  • Chain rails on approaches are damaged and/or missing
  • Light posts on east side have gaps at the foundation, allowing water intrusio

All monies raised for Re-Bridge are under FSJNA's charitable 501c3 status.

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