By Leo Wilson
Past and present of Spruce Street Bridge
The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is one of Bankers Hill’s historic treasures. Relatively unknown until recently, it is located a block west of First Avenue on Spruce Street. Often visitors discover the landmark while walking through western Bankers Hill and are surprised to come upon such a unique, old bridge.
The bridge was built in 1912. It is an impressive 375 feet in length, and at its center about 70 feet above the canyon floor. It crosses the Kate Sessions Canyon — named after the famous San Diego horticulturist — which is also referred to as Arroyo Canyon. The canyon is full of eucalyptus trees, many over 100 feet high. It is widely believed that Kate Sessions planted many of these stately trees.
The bridge also has a view of San Diego Harbor. Edward Capps, the engineer who designed the bridge, was also responsible for the design of a major upgrade of San Diego’s harbor in preparation for the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Capps had been appointed San Diego’s city engineer in 1909, and later assumed the title of the city’s port engineer. As if this was not enough, Capps also was elected mayor of San Diego twice — serving from 1889-1901, and again from 1915-1917.
The purpose for building the bridge was to provide convenient access for those living west of the bridge to street cars that ran along what are now Fourth and Fifth avenues, which are located on the east side of the bridge. Some of the most architecturally distinct homes in San Diego are located on the west side of the bridge and are definitely worth seeing.
Being a suspension bridge, the Spruce Street Bridge can sway in the wind or when you walk across it. Often people jump about on the bridge to make it sway. This does not mean the bridge is in any way unsafe. It is anchored into the ground by massive concrete piers at each end of the bridge, which in some sections are over 20 feet high.
Although partially shrouded in vegetation, the concrete piers are visible at both ends of the bridge. The steel suspension cables that span the bridge have the ability to support a load of 164 tons, which would be the weight of over 2,000 people. The bridge is also frequently inspected; in 2007, it was briefly closed for a retrofit.
Despite its structural integrity, crossing a bridge that is swaying — especially when you are seven stories above the ground — might still be unsettling to some visitors. Many years ago, I used to regularly ride my bicycle across the bridge in the morning; now just walking across the bridge creates an uneasy feeling.
Unfortunately, the increased popularity of the bridge is causing a negative impact upon the adjacent neighborhood. Late at night, loud and often inebriated individuals frolic on the bridge.
About 14 years ago, at the request of local neighbors and with the support of Uptown Planners, a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was established for the bridge.
Despite the curfew, increasing late-night activity is taking place on the bridge, often instigated through social media. This activity has been accompanied by illicit behavior, graffiti and littering. Additionally, alcohol containers and drug paraphernalia are now often found at the bridge.
In an attempt to address these problems, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) has increased its patrol of the bridge, and the city is now considering additional action.
— Leo Wilson is administrator for Metro San Diego CDC and is a Bankers Hill resident.