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Friday, February 26, 2010

What's in a Bridge's Name?

As the new Mississippi River bridge ceremonially breaks ground today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a nice article on the efforts of archeologists to excavate and document sites to be disrupted by the construction of the bridge. Since the area in question was host to 19th century urban neighborhoods and Mississippian culture dating, perhaps, to the 9th century, these digs are important undertakings.

But as I read the article, something else was on my mind. What will the bridge be named?

Wait, what? It was already given a name? By the state of Missouri? In 2005?

Yes. The bridge is to be known as the Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Bridge.

Without getting overly political, I'm not happy about the name or the way it came about. Does Ronald Reagan have any association with Missouri? I know he was born in (northern) Illinois, but that doesn't count by my judgment. Also, doesn't it seem natural to consult the localities that the bridge will connect before naming it? Was this ever done?

The article states the bridge's Missouri landing would be Brooklyn Avenue (itself named after nearby Brooklyn, Illinois). Why not call it the Brooklyn Bridge?

Many bridges are named after the street on which they land. The Poplar Street Bridge is a prominent example. Since the bridge is to feed into Cass, why not call it the Cass Avenue Bridge?

If the state wanted to name the structure after a famous person, why did it not choose a famous St. Louisan or Metro East figure? I would have loved to have seen a Josephine Baker Memorial Bridge, to name just one.

The Post-Dispatch article brings up an even better idea for naming the bridge: the city's mound-builder history, which spans both side of the river. What about the Mound City Bridge?

Basically, any other name would have been better for this new bridge. Missouri, where is your creativity and pride in place?


Unknown said...

If it makes you feel any better, the Poplar Street Bridge is officially known as the "Bernard F. Dickmann Bridge." Since no one refers to the PSB as the Dickmann Bridge, I'm hoping we can just ignore the Reagan designation attached to the new bridge.

The Urbanophile said...

Let me guess, you're not a Ronald Reagan fan.

It is common for structures around the country to be named after presidents. The Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago, for example. Reagan is from Illinois, which owns the river, I believe.

I'm not saying there couldn't have been a better name, but naming a bridge after a president from one the states involved who recently died doesn't seem ridiculously out of line.

STLgasm said...

I vote for the Greg Freeman Bridge or Marti Frumhoff Bridge. Maybe the Pete Parisi Bridge?

Matt M. said...


I know it's common, but I still think it shows that the Midwest has trouble conceiving of itself as a unique place. If so, it might show off more pride in its own heritage.

Ronald Reagan would make sense for a Chicago or Quad Cities bridge, but it's kind of a head scratcher in St. Louis.

Why not let St. Louisans and Southern Illinoisans decide on a name that represents the communities the bridge is plowing through?

I don't get how that's a tall request.

Anonymous said...

i'm no fan of reagan, but i also wouldn't want the "william jefferson clinton" memorial bridge. i agree that the bridge should take on a name with local significance, but naming after presidents seems to be the convention. at least we can ignore it and call it whatever we want.

Anonymous said...

by the way, matt, i love the new title picture!

Chris said...

The naming of the new Reagan bridge has less to do with Missouri and more about a larger, national Republican trend to name as many things as possible after the last Republican president to have a positive public opinion rating when he left office. As the popularity of Bush 43 dropped, Republicans frantically began naming everything in sight after Reagan. A great example was the Republican held Congress naming Washington, DC's airport after Reagan, despite it being a very Democratic city. As usual, it's all about politics.

Matt M. said...

Good points, Chris.

My objection is not really even political, though I'm not a fan of Reagan.

As Adam commented, if it were to be named the William J. Clinton Bridge, I'd not be too happy either. Why shouldn't it be a cool name reflective of our heritage?

Unknown said...

I think this is much ado about nothing. As others have pointed out, bridges have official names and popular names. I suspect that we'll all be calling this one "the new bridge" for a long, long time.

Unknown said...

Ok Chris... lets not forget that we just renamed Delmar for a man that had just been elected president.

Call it what ever you want to as long as it gets built along with the rest of the city to river project.

At the end of the day, no sane person is going to avoid the bridge because it's named after Regan.

Matt M. said...

The point is not what effect the bridge's name has on its use. The point is the effect of the name on the region's civic psyche.

As if we have nothing of our own to name a bridge after.

I realize this is not a *BIG* deal. Still, it registers as irksome to me.

The bridge design itself is not very creative; I thought we could at least get a good name in there.

Michael R. Allen said...

There's one difference, Greg: The naming of Delmar is only honorary. The Reagan bridge name will be official.

Doug Duckworth said...

I call it the Dickmann Bridge! It's so much cooler than PSB or Poplar Street. And no one really knows what I'm saying! That's a real conversation starter...

Moreover, Bernard F. Dickmann was not an anti-gay, anti-City, pro-nuclear armament, war criminal, nor B-movie actor who became president only because he served as corporate America's yes man with a smile. Ronald Reagan should have no connection to anything associated with St. Louis, except perhaps the vacant buildings in North St. Louis which exist partially due to his tax reform act.

Though at least we didn't name it after Rush Limbaugh, Senator Bond, any of the Blunt's, or our wonderful former Attorney General.

Buzz Westfall received a section of the Page Extension before Veterans Memorial.

I don't understand why we didn't name this after Mel Carnahan? He should have at least been in the running?

Mark Groth said...

STLgasm nailed it: it's the Pete Parisi bridge. The new Memorial Drive will be called Black Jesus Blvd. and all will be settled and right with St. Louis.

Matt M. said...

^Thanks, Adam!

Just saw your comment.

Unknown said...

First off, I'm not fond of the naming of the bridge either. Regan doesn't seem to have any connection to the city of St. Louis. But in the long run, no one will end up calling it that. It will more likely take on the name of the highway that runs across it or the street that it connects with. The most important thing is that it is getting built and we can now remove the disaster that is I-70 downtown. Maybe the city can hold an unofficial naming rights campaign. Just like Delmar's unofficial new name.

Doug, please keep your angry, foul political views to yourself. This isn't intended to be a political forum. People read this blog to keep up on the fabric of the city, not someone's political agenda. I have to read enough of that crap on StlToday.

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