Should the historic Sidaway Bridge linking two Cleveland neighborhoods be rescued? Editorial Board Roundtable – cleveland.com


Advocates are seeking landmark status for the historic but long-damaged and disused Sidaway Bridge in Cleveland as a prelude to restoration.Steven Litt, cleveland.com
In 1909, under leadership of the legendary Tom L. Johnson, Cleveland built a massive 675-feet-long pedestrian trestle bridge to better connect two neighborhoods of immigrant factory workers so they could access more jobs. Two decades later, with the bridge obstructing train traffic below, it was rebuilt as the city’s first — and still only — suspension bridge. Pedestrian traffic resumed until the 1966 Hough riots, when the bridge, then connecting a white neighborhood to a Black one, became a target; someone pulled apart the planking, and the bridge was partly burned.
More than a half a century later, with those two neighborhoods struggling to attract jobs and residents, attention is refocusing on a possible rescue of the Sidaway Bridge to become what two writers for “Cleveland Historical” call “A Bridge over Troubled Neighborhoods.”
As cleveland.com’s Steven Litt recently reported, “The graceful but long-damaged and disused Sidaway pedestrian bridge, one of the most poignant symbols of Cleveland’s racial unrest in the 1960s, could soon be in line for a comeback.”
With Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and new Ward 5 Councilmember Richard Starr behind the effort to help revitalize both communities, two nonprofits have applied for the bridge’s designation as a National Historic Landmark and also want it named a city landmark, to qualify for federal grants toward restoring the bridge.
“The physical restoration of the bridge can be a bridge to restoring a community,’’ Bianca Butts, director of neighborhood planning and engagement at the Burten, Bell, Carr community development nonprofit, told Litt. “It’s very symbolic, but tangible.’’
A recent letter writer opined that the largely Black Garden Valley and largely white Slavic Village/North Broadway neighborhoods have bigger issues to worry about than fixing up an old pedestrian bridge, but advocates note the grants being sought are earmarked only for such historic renovations — and argue the project will have far broader benefits for all.
So, should the Sidaway Bridge be rescued and renovated? The Editorial Board Roundtable offers its thoughts.
Leila Atassi, manager public interest and advocacy:
While I agree that these neighborhoods have bigger problems than a broken bridge, it’s important to note that we’re not talking about diverting public money away from those problems. With money earmarked for just such a renovation, it’s hard to imagine a project more perfect for our divided times.
Ted Diadiun, columnist:
The pessimist in me sees a well-meaning, expensive effort at unity dissolving into a perilous site for crime and misery. The optimist wants to applaud the vision of Richard Starr and Justin Bibb, two men who know that part of the city far better than I do. Godspeed to them.
Thomas Suddes, editorial writer:
Yes, by all means. This bridge is not only part of Cleveland’s heritage, but its restoration would also be a notable civic amenity.
Eric Foster, columnist:
There’s no harm to seeking federal funds to restore the bridge. When/if the time comes for the use of local funds, the question is how restoration fits within a larger development plan. Restoration for historical or symbolism’s sake isn’t enough in my mind. What would residents use it for now?”
Lisa Garvin, editorial board member:
I was a 9-year old East Sider when the Sidaway bridge was torched, but knew nothing about it until now. It marks a turbulent time in Cleveland’s history, and reconnecting neighborhoods severed by racism is both symbolic and practical. Landmark designation will unleash grant funds to restore this forgotten gem.
Victor Ruiz, editorial board member:
I appreciate Cleveland starting the work of atoning for our racist past. I do hope that this also spurs innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic development opportunities in two neighborhoods that are in desperate need for more than symbols and righting a historical wrong.
Mary Cay Doherty, editorial board member:
Historic designation and preservation for Sidaway Bridge are laudable goals. But an accurate cost analysis should come first. Reconstruction of a Spokane, Washington, suspension pedestrian bridge cost $2.9 million. Sidaway Bridge is older and more neglected. If costs exceed available grant monies, who, realistically, will pick up the tab?
Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion:
Cleveland is a city of bridges — lift bridges, swing bridges, jackknife bridges, roller-lift bridges, high fixed spans, viaducts, arched stone bridges, the bridge that gave our baseball team its new name — hundreds of them, according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Saving the city’s only suspension bridge, with all the community benefits that surely will accrue, is a no-brainer.
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