The Hope Memorial Bridge and the coveted Guardians of Transportation: Lasting Cleveland icons

The Cuyahoga River has always posed a logistical question in city planning as Cleveland has grown:  How to get vehicular traffic across the Cuyahoga River, from the East side of the city to the West side, without disrupting shipping.

<span class="content-image-text">Stone carvers pose on a pylon of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, later renamed the Hope Memorial Bridge, ca. 1931.</span>Stone carvers pose on a pylon of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, later renamed the Hope Memorial Bridge, ca. 1931.One of most dramatic responses is the magnificent Art Deco masterpiece, completed in 1932 as the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge (today the Hope Memorial Bridge).

More than one mile in length, the bridge was intended to relieve traffic on the 1917 Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge to its immediate north.

It took years of planning to bring the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge to reality. A project of this magnitude required substantial financing—in this case an $8 million bond issue approved by voters in the late 1920s.

After the usual disputes about routing and other details were settled. construction of the bridge began in 1930 and dedicated just two years later—a remarkable achievement in light of the economic disaster of the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression.

The bridge was designed by the firm of Wilbur J. Watson & Associates with Frank Walker of Walker & Weeks serving as consulting architect.

A notable feature of Lorain-Carnegie bridge is four massive stone pylons embellished with eight figures representing different modes of then-current transport—known as the Guardians to Transportation. These were designed by Walker and sculpted by noted New York sculptor Henry Hering.

<span class="content-image-text">Lorain-Carnegie Bridge - Photo Bob Pekoski</span>Lorain-Carnegie Bridge - Photo Bob Pekoski

Hering’s credentials were impeccable. As a young man he trained under sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens and then studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

While most observers were quick to recognize the merit of the Guardians of Transportation sculptures, their existence was threatened in the 1970s by Cuyahoga County Engineer Albert S. Porter. He suggested a plan to widen the bridge that would have called for the removal of the guardians.

Wiser heads prevailed and the statues were saved—remaining a focal point of the bridge to this day (and the inspiration for the new name of Cleveland’s baseball team).

A dozen years after he completed these sculptures, Hering was in the national news in the summer of 1945 when an Army Air Force B -25 medium bomber flew into the Empire State Building—causing considerable damage and loss of life.

Wreckage from this doomed aircraft fell onto the roof of Hering’s nearby penthouse studio, gutting it and destroying $ 75,000 worth of his artwork.

<span class="content-image-text">Lorain-Carnegie Bridge</span>Lorain-Carnegie BridgeThe bridge was closed for extensive renovations from 1980 to 1983. As an early example of the now-common trend to rename and rebrand everything, the newly renovated bridge had a new name—the Hope Memorial Bridge.

The name was meant to honor the father of entertainer Bob Hope. Forty years later, the actual role of the senior Hope in the bridge’s construction remains obscure while stubborn Clevelanders of a certain age persist in referring to it as the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.

About to turn 90 years old, the bridge stands strong, ready to enter a second century of service to the city.

About the Author: Tom Matowitz

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.