Phalen bridge gets new life

  • Article by: KEVIN GILES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 26, 2012 - 6:23 PM

A neighborhood celebration will mark the rededication of the restored 102-year-old landmark on St. Paul's East Side.

It took eight years, but a 1910 bridge considered a longtime eyesore at Lake Phalen in St. Paul has been restored to its architecture prominence.

Phalen's Stone Arch Bridge, revived in appearance and safety, will be celebrated at a community dedication on Saturday. "It was rebuilt to historical standards. We're hoping that it becomes a renewed focal point for citizens," said Rich Kramer, a board member of Friends of Lake Phalen.

In its glory days, the bridge was part of the roadway around the lake. The bridge crosses a canal that leads from Lake Phalen to the smaller Round and Keller lakes and, years ago, was open to vehicle traffic.

"When roads were aligned around Lake Phalen, the bridge was moved out of the dominion of public works and fell into disrepair," Kramer said. Rainwater seeped into the structure, vandals tagged it with graffiti, and the once-handsome bridge lost its appeal. When falling decorative limestone threatened canoeists who paddled the canal, the Friends group asked the city for help.

Now thanks to $1.3 million in city capital improvement money, the bridge has a new concrete deck, railings that meet modern safety requirements, a new limestone facade, and more strength to ensure safety. It will remain mostly as a pedestrian bridge, although emergency and maintenance vehicles can use it, and canoeists can pass under it again.

"It's been impeccably restored. Visibly it looks great," said Brian Murphy, the city landscape architect who managed the project. A limestone facade that was added in the 1930s to dress up the original concrete bridge was put back into place exactly how it had appeared then, he said.

The Phalen bridge was designed and built by renowned Minnesota engineer C.A.P. Turner, who also designed the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, the Soo Line High Bridge over the St. Croix River and the Mendota Bridge over the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling.

The Phalen bridge, once a popular venue for weddings, remains eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, Kramer said.

The dedication ceremony will be hosted by City Council Member Dan Bostrom, who represents the Sixth Ward, and many other people instrumental in the bridge restoration. The ceremony also will feature a band performance by students from Farnsworth School in St. Paul. After the ceremony, guests will be encouraged to attend the Waterfest event, which will be happening at the same time in Phalen Park.

The bridge "has really a deep history on the East Side," Kramer said.

The Stone Arch Bridge is situated on the west side of Lake Phalen near the junction of Arcade Street and Parkway Drive. The bridge also is just east of the Phalen Golf Course Clubhouse.

The dedication begins at 11:30 a.m.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles

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