Steel Shots: La Salle St. Bridge Turns 85

La Salle Street BridgeCompleted in December of 1928, Chicago’s La Salle Street Bridge (or Marshall Suloway Bridge) is a single-deck, double-leaf trunnion bascule bridge that spans the main stem of the Chicago River, connecting the city’s Near North Side with the “Loop” area. In the warmer months, the bridge is raised to allow boats to pass. (Click on the above photo for another view of the bridge.) Photos: Courtesy of Jim Phillips 

Chicago’s La Salle Street bridge was opened to much fanfare 85 years ago on December 20, 1928. According to a Chicago Daily Tribune story at the time, festivities included a parade from downtown’s Grant Park to the bridge and a ribbon cutting ceremony led by Mayor William Hale Thompson with about 1,000 spectators in attendance.

La Salle Street was considered to be an important piece of the solution to Chicago’s downtown traffic flow problems in the early 1900’s. Feasibility studies for a bridge began around 1914. The Chicago Plan Commission began studies to widen La Salle Street from Washington Street to Lincoln Park in 1920, and bridge construction began in late 1924.

The bridgehouse plaque credits Donald Becker as the engineer of bridge design. The consulting architectural firm for the Chicago Plan Commission — Bennett, Parsons, and Frost — was responsible for the design of the bridge houses. The substructure was built by Central Dredging Company while the bridge superstructure was the responsibility of Strobel Steel Construction Company. Kelly-Atkinson Construction Company built the bridge houses.

This bridge makes quite a statement, with its sweeping pony trusses and four Beaux Arts style bridge houses. During this era of movable bridges, only two houses were functionally necessary (one for each leaf). The remaining houses are solely ornamental. Four house bridges were reserved for “gateway” locations in the city, and the La Salle Street bridge is the gateway into the financial district.

The current bridge is the second river crossing at its location. A roadway tunnel with pedestrian sidewalks opened there in July of 1871. This tunnel provided an important escape route during the Great Fire in early October of that year. The original tunnel fell into disuse and was replaced in 1912 by a streetcar tunnel. The Dearborn Street subway (now the CTA Blue Line) cut through the La Salle Street tunnel in the early 1940s. The last vestige of the tunnel crossing, the north portal, was removed in the mid-1950s.

As with a number of other downtown Chicago bridges, this bridge is named in honor of an important Chicagoan. In 1999, this bridge was christened the Marshall Suloway Bridge. Suloway, a Chicago native educated at IIT, started his civil engineering career in 1950 with the Illinois Highway Department. He joined the Chicago Department of Public Works in 1964, serving as Chief Engineering beginning in 1967. In 1974, he was appointed Acting Commissioner of Public Works. He was selected as the Man of the Year in 1976 by the American Public Works Association and served as Commissioner of Public Works until 1979. Suloway passed away in 2012.

For more information about the LaSalle Street Bridge, contact Jim Phillips (who provided this commentary) at 312.540.0696, or visit his website, which features multimedia pages for all of the Chicago Loop bridges.