Built in 1928 and formerly known as the 6th Street Bridge, the span’s name was changed to honor Pittsburgh Pirates hall of famer, Roberto Clemente, in 1998. It bridges the Allegheny River and connects the downtown’s 6th Street to the North Shore’s Federal Street just to the east of PNC Park. The Clemente Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 primarily for its unique, self-anchored eye-bar suspension design. It is also one of a trio of nearly identical Pittsburgh bridges known as the “Three Sisters,” the other two being the Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson Bridges, both of which sit just upriver from the Clemente Bridge.
Prior to the
construction of the Roberto Clemente Bridge, three other bridges crossed the
Allegheny River at the same spot. The
first was a covered, wooden toll bridge that was designed by Louis Wernwag and
built in 1819. It was known as the St.
Clair Bridge as that was what 6th Street was referred to back
then. Forty years later it was replaced
with a John Roebling designed wire suspension bridge in 1859. The designer of the Brooklyn Bridge built
three bridges in Pittsburgh, with this one being his last. By 1892 it had become obsolete as it was too
low to the water’s surface and could not safely handle the increasing weight of
the traffic crossing upon it, to include the new electric street trolleys. Subsequently, it was replaced the same year.
bridge at this location was a Theodore Cooper designed through truss bridge
built by the Union Bridge Company. This
bridge was renamed the 6th Street Bridge in 1908 when Allegheny City
was annexed and incorporated into the city of Pittsburgh. When this bridge was dismantled in 1927, its
main span was lowered onto barges and floated down the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers
to bridge the gap between the nearby Neville Island and the town of Coraopolis
where it remained until 1994.
Bridge Company of New York was then tasked with building a new span in
1927-28. They came up with a unique
design due to the fact that the city desired a suspension bridge but the site
did not allow for the usual land-based anchorages for the bridge’s wires. Instead, they built two, 78-foot towers and
replaced the typical suspension wires with an eye-bar chain and then suspended
the bridge deck with additional, vertical eye-bars. It went through a major renovation in 1995
and when the Pirates’ sold the naming rights to their new ball park to PNC
Bank, rather than name it after Clemente, the bridge was renamed after the
famous Pirate in a compromise gesture in 1998. The bridge is closed to vehicular traffic during weekend (Fri-Sun) Pirates' and Steelers' home games.
Clemente was much more than a baseball great that played for 18 seasons and
collected exactly 3,000 hits. He was a
gracious representative of the game who was proud of his Latin American
heritage. He was also involved in
numerous local and international charities to which he devoted both time and
money. He tragically died on New Year’s Eve,
1972 when the plane he was escorting to deliver relief supplies to earthquake
victims in Nicaragua crashed into the sea just after take-off.