Named after the Pittsburgh-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, historian and lecturer, David McCullough, the former 16th Street Bridge was completed in 1923. It was renamed to honor McCullough in 2013. The McCullough Bridge spans the Allegheny River and connects Pittsburgh’s Strip District with its North Shore. The bridge is a three-span, through arch bridge that was designed by the New York architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore and the lead engineer was Homer Gage Balcom who also designed the Empire State Building. The bridge has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.
bridge on the site was the Mechanics Bridge, which was a covered, wooden
structure that was completed in 1837 and was destroyed by fire in 1851. An open bridge was then built on the existing
piers in 1854 for pedestrians and horse-drawn vehicles. This span was partially destroyed by a flood
in 1865 and rebuilt as a toll bridge.
Allegheny County later purchased the bridge in 1911 and eliminated the
toll. However, this bridge was also
destroyed by fire in 1918.
then contracted with Warren and Wetmore in order to design a new bridge in
conjunction with the Pittsburgh Art Commission.
The city sought a bridge that was “…beautiful as well as ornamental.” In
other words, the city was of the belief that form and function should receive
equal attention. To that end, the
architectural firm, using the old piers, created a through-arch bridge that
utilized a Warren truss design on its three arches. The bridge is 1,900 feet long, with its main
span measuring 437 feet.
designed four massive stone towers, two at each end, that serve as portals and soar
62 feet above the bridge deck. Pedestrians
crossing the span walk through arched openings in each tower that include
carvings of what are thought to be Poseidon (or perhaps Neptune) and his
wife. Atop each tower is a bronze sculpture designed
by Italian-born sculptor, Leo Lentelli.
Each sculpture features four winged seahorses (more Pegasus-like than an
actual seahorse) and an armillary sphere encircled by the signs of the
zodiac. Two of the sculptures still
retain their oxidized green coloring while two became black in color after the oxidization
had been removed and they were coated with lacquer in 1978.
underwent extensive renovations when it was closed for six months in 1981 when
a new deck and expansion dams were installed.
It was then closed for a year in 2002-2003 when it underwent a $9.8
million overhaul. The renovations
included the replacement or repair of much of its structural steel, abrasive
blasting, and a new, yellow coat of paint.
In July of 2013, on David McCullough’s 80th birthday, the
bridge was renamed to honor the man who was born and raised in the Point Breeze
neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The Yale
graduate has written such works as The Johnstown Flood in 1968 and The
Great Bridge, about the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, in
1972. He won the Pulitzer Prize for both
Truman and John Adams.