Looking Back: Feats of Engineering
● By Jillian Becquet
When it opened in 1926, crowds of onlookers turned out to view the Bascule (derived from the French word for seesaw) rise and descend to allow ships to pass into the Port of Corpus Christi. The bridge was 121 feet long and 52 feet wide, and its two electric motors easily raised it 141 feet in the air. It took between 12 and 30 minutes for a vessel to pass...which was plenty of time to appreciate the engineering, or to become impatient.
Almost immediately after opening, it was clear that a new, higher bridge would be needed. 183 wrecks were recorded because ships couldn’t navigate through the tight passage, and regularly scraped or crashed into parts of the bridge and its controls.
As the 1950s began, a new bridge was a necessity. Some wanted to build a high bridge like the Harbor Bridge; others, like Mayor Albert
Lichtenstein, wanted a tunnel. And he wanted a tunnel so badly that an argument about it at City Council resulted in him resigning as mayor.
The Department of Highways offered $9 million for a bridge, nothing for a tunnel, and the decision was made. The Harbor Bridge we all know today opened October 23, 1959, and was expected to last the next 50 years. It is 5,818 feet long, 250 feet above the water, with 138 feet of vertical clearance. It weighs 155 million pounds, and quickly became known as “Napoleon’s Hat” for its distinctive shape.
Happy 60 years, Harbor Bridge. You’ve served us well.