By Leo Wilson
One of my earliest memories of Bankers Hill was walking across the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge. It was a rickety, old, wooden bridge that sparked safety concerns. Several years later, it appeared that I would never walk over the bridge ever again.
The Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge was closed because of safety concerns and was facing demolition. Thankfully, this did not happen, in large part because the local Bankers Hill community rose up to save this treasured old bridge.
The Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge was built in 1905. It is one of the few remaining wood trestle bridges in San Diego. The bridge — designed by a city engineer named George A. d’Hemecourt — is 236 feet long and 60 feet tall.
As with the Spruce Street Bridge, the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge was built to provide access to the Fourth Avenue trolley for those who resided across a canyon in western Bankers Hill.
For over 80 years, the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge was a neighborhood landmark. However, in July 1987, it was declared unsafe and closed. A city inspector found that it was infested with termites, with some of its wooden structure rotting.
The unannounced closure came as a shock to the Bankers Hill community, as did a consultant’s report to the San Diego City Council that the bridge was little used and unnecessary. The consultant recommended the bridge should be torn down and not replaced.
The Bankers Hill neighborhood rallied to save the bridge; over 1,000 people signed petitions to preserve it. Local residents pointed out the bridge’s deck planks had already been replaced in 1974, and the bridge’s trestle bases were reinforced with concrete in 1981.
More importantly, they stated the bridge was a Bankers Hill landmark that needed to be preserved. Elinor Meadows, who lived a short distance north of the bridge, was a leader in this preservation effort. According to a Nov. 28, 1987 article from the Los Angeles Times, she placed a sign on the bridge which read:
“I am an old bridge. I was the pioneer structure across a lovely canyon. I have carried my share of walkers. I have provided a place to view the bay, a quiet place to pause, to stop and think. I have seen many changes. The bay is busy, the air is heavy, the streets are crowded. My people need me more than ever. But where are they? No one crosses me now. It’s enough to make an old bridge weep.”
In November 1987, the San Diego Historic Site Board designated the bridge as historic landmark, potentially saving it from demolition. The city agreed to restore the bridge at a cost of about $250,000. The original cost to build the bridge in 1905 was $850.
After a two-year restoration, the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge opened again in 1990. About 70 percent of the wooden bridge was replaced, including support beams, decking and handrails. The replacement wood was pressure-treated Douglas fir. The bridge has remained open, except for about five months in 2011, after a eucalyptus tree fell on it.
If it hadn’t been for Elinor Meadows and other Bankers Hill community activists back in 1987, the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge would likely have suffered the fate of the hallowed Vermont Street Pedestrian Bridge, which was torn down in 1980, despite the city’s pledge to preserve it into the next century.
— Leo Wilson is administrator for Metro San Diego CDC and is a Bankers Hill resident.