The Gandy Bridge - First To Span Tampa Bay
A small group of men sat around a table on which was spread out a large map of Pinellas Peninsula and surrounding country. With a pair of calipers, they carefully measured the distance by all possible routes between St. Petersburg and Tampa. “Can’t you see the answer?” asked one of the men. “Can’t you see that a bridge across Old Tampa Bay is almost indispensable? Look how much distance it would cut off. Nearly fifty miles by land-by bridge it would only be nineteen or twenty miles. Think what that would mean to this section of the state!”
The others were frankly skeptical. “Sure, it would be a fine thing,” said one. “But it will never be built during our lifetime. Why it would cost millions and how could you hope to get your money back? It’s foolish to think of such a thing. Forget it.”
The advocate of the bridge listened to the arguments of his friends. He heard them say how hopelessly visionary such a project was and how it could never be put through. He paid attention to all that they had to say-and then promptly disregarded their advice.
He refused to “forget” the bridge idea.
“Perhaps you gentlemen are right,” he said. “Perhaps the bridge is just a
foolish dream. But I don’t believe it. And I never will be satisfied until
the bridge is built.”
When George Gandy's colossus opened for traffic in 1924, it was the feat of its day. One of the longest toll span bridges of the world in its time, it was a financial and engineering marvel that instantly accelerated the residential and commercial development of the entire Tampa Bay area. But the major wonder of the feat was in its gestation and birth, because from the time that it was a gleam in the stern and flinty eyes of George Gandy, to the time when the first piling was hammered in to the bedrock of Tampa Bay, nearly a generation had passed. In the early 1900's, it wasn't Gandy's "colossus" but instead, his folly...a crazy notion that was greeted, at best, with patronizing guffaws from the more practical wags of the day. Over the years, the project careened on the precipice of failure enough times to make the shrewdest stock market wizard hedge his bottom dollar for lunch money and a nice, sound, U.S. savings bond. But the imposing Philadelphian simply said, "I am going to build that bridge." And with the single-mindedness of a zealot precariously mixed with a razor will and unmitigated cheek, he did.
Early life & career in Philadelphia
George Gandy was born in Tuckahoe, New Jersey, in 1851. He was one of two sons of sea captain Louis Gandy and Jane Reeves Gandy. George, who had an older brother named Alfred, received only a grammar school education. He grew to be 5-feet-2 and came to be called the "runt." Gandy was always defensive about his size; on many occasions he fought those who ridiculed him. When he was 16, his father went bankrupt and young George went to Philadelphia, where he studied bookkeeping for three months. At that time he lived in Northern Liberties near the home of the Henry Disston family, becoming friends with Henry's sons and having Mary (Henry's only daughter) as a playmate. When he finished bookkeeping school, Gandy went to Disston's Keystone Saw Works as a clerk in the bookkeeping department at $4 a week.
Gandy's first run-in with Disston occurred in 1872. The year found Disston stressed over a growing business and a commitment to move it to Tacony. During a discussion, he cursed at Gandy in front of the men in the office. Disston swore at him again the next morning. At the end of the workday, an annoyed Gandy headed for Henry Disston's office. Disston never stopped writing as Gandy entered the room, instead abruptly demanding, "What do you want?" Gandy waited until Disston finally looked up and raised his glasses to the top of his head. "I am only a boy and I don't think I am presuming," Gandy started, "but I have feelings of a man just the same. I don't like your treatment of me, and I want to quit." A surprised Disston replied, "But George, I didn't mean anything." Actually, Gandy liked Disston and accepted his apology. He then offered his boss some advice: "Here is your trouble. You get your mind on something and go with three or four men to see something, and when you come back to the office, five or six people are waiting to see you. Suppose when you get busy you just ring for me." Henry Disston always liked men who spoke their minds and were loyal, hardworking employees. He had found that trait in longtime family friend George Gandy. In 1872, Disston placed Gandy in charge of the payroll department. On his first day on the job, Gandy informed Disston that he would reorganize the department using his own system.
Read about the rest of George Gandy's interesting career with Disston, the improvements he made, and how things changed after his marriage to Disston's daughter and her death, as recorded by Gandy himself in his diary.
At age 35, Gandy began suffering from a heart condition which lasted the rest of his life and was occasionally aggravated by his business dealings. In 1882, Gandy became involved in the transportation business. While working in transportation construction and operations, he achieved several prominent positions, such as secretary and treasurer of the Frankford and Southwark Railroad, vice-president of the Frankford and Southwark, president of the Omnibus Company, and president of the Fairmont Park Transportation Company. Gandy organized the construction of many trolley lines and electric railways, and was recognized in his field as an expert on traction problems. Eventually, he became vice-president of the Philadelphia Electric Traction Company. The tireless Gandy also served as president of the St. Petersburg and Gulf Railway, and this position brought him to west-central Florida in 1902.
Tampa Bay Area Transit
At the beginning of the twentieth century, travel between the Pinellas peninsula and the mainland of Hillsborough County was limited to difficult land routes. Despite the arrival of the railroad to the lower Pinellas in the late 1800s, journeys between Pinellas and Hillsborough remained difficult and time-consuming because no direct rail link existed until 1914. The arrival of the automobile cut the travel time, but it took approximately six hours for a model-T to make the trek around the bay on primitive Florida roads, if you didn't break down. A steamship cruise between the two cities across the bay took about two hours. In 1914, during the pioneering period of aviation, Percival Fansler's St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, with Tony Jannus in the pilot's seat, cut travel time between St. Petersburg and Tampa a mere twenty-two minutes, but this novelty quickly went out of business within 4 months.
Gandy Arrives in St. Pete
On George S. Gandy's first visit to
St. Petersburg in 1902, he decided that a bridge linking St.
Petersburg with Tampa could be built across Tampa Bay at the narrowest
point. Gandy was firmly committed to completing such an ambitious
project once the population of the area had increased to a sufficient
amount so he could make large profits from tolls. In 1915 Gandy
employed a large crew of surveyors to determine the narrowest and
shallowest part of the bay. The surveys took two years to finish. Upon
completion of the surveys in 1917, Gandy secured the rights-of-way
from Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, the state, and the federal
government. The volume of permits needed today to perform such a
monumental task were not required in Gandy’s day; basically, all one
had to possess were the finances and land rights. In the 1920s,
ecological concerns were not even considered, except in very rare
|With no need for environmental studies, Gandy’s project required only approval of the Florida legislature, which retained ownership of submerged land. Gandy also had to acquire permits from the War Department, since the Army Corps of Engineers had dominion over the navigable waters of the United States. The War Department also retained jurisdiction over bridges for the purpose of deploying troops in time of war or other emergencies.
|Home folks laughed and the financiers on Wall Street were not interested at first, but Gandy persisted. The skeptics, the scoffers and the kibitzers ridiculed Gandy and labeled his pet idea as a "wild, visionary scheme." This wasn't new to Gandy. He was one of several "money men" who as early as 1906 had big plans to finance the development of St. Petersburg.
During 1912-1913, Gandy built the Plaza
Theatre, which included an opera house and office buildings, on
Central Ave. and Fifth St. in St. Pete. It opened on March 8, 1913
and was dubbed "Gandy's white elephant." The complex later proved to
be a great success. Gandy's La Plaza Theatre was acquired by
Florida State Theatre in 1948 and demolished in 1957.
World War 1 Delays Gandy's
In the beginning of 1918, the
Gandy Bridge Company finally advanced to the construction phase of
the project. However, as a result of the United States’ entry into
World War I the previous year, it was impossible to obtain the
volume of construction materials needed for such a huge project.
The War Emergency Board informed Gandy and his partner H. Walter
Fuller that they had to postpone the bridge project until the end
of the war. The postwar recession further delayed Gandy's
dream, but he did not give up hope.
Gandy Gets Approval
Having been turned down by the War Emergency Board for a permit, Gandy fought back. He rushed all over both counties to get endorsements from powerful civic groups, banks and businesses, while buttonholing legislators along the way. He turned out his own "form" endorsements and successfully sought signatures for them, which he used to deluge a hearing before the Board of Engineers of the U.S. War Department. His determination and stubbornness were illustrated in a statement he made at the hearing. Someone accused Gandy of writing all the signatures of support, declaring the endorsements had one man’s distinctive mark. Gandy, almost shouting and banging his fist on the table, reportedly proclaimed: “You bet they do! And I’m that one man! And if the bridge is ever built, by myself or anyone else, it will be by a fellow who gets behind it like I have and never quits!” On Feb. 11, 1918, the War Department approved his bridge.
The initial plan for financing the project was to enlist the aid of northern capitalists. Many propositions were considered with this in view and at one time it appeared as though the negotiations were closed. It was soon discovered, however, that when the time came to confirm tentative plans in writing, that Wall Street money was a more costly article than preliminary arrangements indicated and that a high contract price for construction replaced a lower tentative bid.
Worse of all, Gandy learned that to get Wall Street’s help he would have to relinquish control of the project. Gandy balked, broke off all negotiations, and decided to finance the bridge through the sale of securities to residents and winter visitors of Florida.
In 1922, Gandy bought out his partner H. Walter Fuller and persisted with the project to build the bridge. Despite his determination, Gandy refused to put one penny of his money into the project, so he faced difficulties in financing the bridge, which continued to encounter doubts about its profitability. During the summer of 1922, another Philadelphia businessman, Eugene M. Elliott, became aware of the project after meeting Walter Jones, a part-time resident of St. Petersburg and an unofficial representative of the city’s chamber of commerce.
When Elliott and Gandy first met, they talked almost continuously for nine days, and Elliott became convinced he could finance Gandy’s plan. According to Elliott, he did not need to earn money because he was already financially secure, but he became captivated with Gandy’s bridge because the seeming impossibility of it challenged the self-acclaimed financier. From that point on, Elliott became a key player in making the Gandy Bridge a reality.
In 1909, H. Walter Fuller, president of the St. Petersburg Transportation Co. and manager of the Florida West Coast Co. city electric company, St. Petersburg and Gulf railway and Johns Pass Realty Co., gave an interview to the Independent. He expected a wave of prosperity to sweep the country in the following year. Fuller, "one of the live wires," was a driving force in developing the city. He made, and lost, fortunes. Among his careers, he was a road builder and developer (Jungle and Pasadena subdivisions, Treasure Island). He built an electric plant at 16th Street N and First Avenue, and helped extend Central Avenue from Ninth Street to Boca Ciega Bay. Fuller envisaged a bridge to Tampa, which George S. Gandy later built. He died in North Carolina in 1942, at 74
Eugene Elliott, "Fast
"It didn't need to be real, it didn't need to be needed, Elliott could sell anything to anybody. If the product had merit--fine, if it didn't have merit, well, Gene Elliot could sell it anyhow, and perhaps even faster....He didn't sell them the bridge, he sold George Gandy to the public." --Historian Karl H. Grismer
Former St. Pete Times editor Edward Naugle called Elliott a Leonardo Da Vinci, a master of virtually any field who could attract people and keep them on the edge of their chairs when he spoke.
In 1922, Gandy decided to "go public." According to historian Raymond Arsenault, Elliott was not what he professed to be during his interviews with the press at the time. Arsenault asserts that Elliott, as a real estate promoter, was completely unrestrained in his sales approach. As Arsenault remarked, “As clever as he was unprincipled, the slick-talking Elliott took the town by storm – and boom-era ethics to a new low.” Elliott, who was less enthusiastic about the bridge than he was about selling securities for it, assured prospective sales prospects that the bridge was already "underwritten."
By September 1922, after
110 days of Elliott’s hard selling, Gandy was astonished that
the salesman and his associates had raised $2
million from the sale of stocks. In their pitches, Elliott and
his legion had falsely claimed that Elliott was a well-to-do
tycoon who had already financed most of Gandy’s venture.
Furthermore, according to historian K. H. Grismer, Elliott
thought that Gandy actually would never build. The
day Elliott hit the million dollar mark in sales, Gandy nodded
and told Elliott that construction would soon begin.
Elliott's jaw dropped and he gasped, "What? You're not
really going to build, are you?"
Later, convinced it was not
such a bad idea, he established the "Boulevard and Bay Land
Development Company" and scooped up some choice acreage
along the bridge approaches on Weedon Island. He offered "Five
Thousand Acres of Sunshine" to sun-enthused tourists, even
though about 3,500 acres of the property was still under water.
It was to be the "Florida Riviera." In 1923, hoping to
increase its value, he planted Indian artifacts on his Riviera
and summoned J. Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institute.
Finding the relics made the property a key archeological find.
After the bridge's 1924 opening, Elliott enjoyed relaxing and
drinking with the boys, and making light of his Weedon Island
scam. It didn't help his Riviera, which fell victim to
Florida's economic bust in 1926. Read about Elliott's
downfall from the link under his photo.
Elliott's Riviera headquarters office on Central Ave. between 5th & 6th St.
Despite the questionable claims, construction began in earnest on September 26, 1922, when dredging started for the causeways that would approach the bridge from both sides of the bay. Gandy moved quickly. With equipment coming from as far away as St. Paul, Minnesota, and expertise from men who had worked on the Panama Canal, the construction project itself was like nothing that Floridians had ever witnessed. Dredging began on the Pinellas side and was carried out during the entire project by three dredges. For a year and a half, dredging was constant, and it eventually removed roughly 2.5 million cubic yards of sand from the bottom of Old Tampa Bay. The piling and packing of this sand transformed a 400-foot-wide strip of bay into a causeway ten feet above the mean low-water level. This was about a foot above the maximum height of the bay's storm surge during the great hurricane of October, 1921. The causeway from the Tampa side is three-quarters of a mile long, and the one from the St. Petersburg side is approximately two and a half miles long. According to one estimate, causeway construction is about five times less expensive than bridge construction.
George Gandy standing on a dredge pipe, 1923
A New Bay Area Town--Ganbridge
Near the end of 1922, a temporary town was organized on the eastern side of the bay as a base of operations for the project. Dubbed “Ganbridge,” the base camp had dormitories and showers for the workers, a warehouse, offices, a machine shop, a blacksmith’s shop, and a wood shop. In addition, Ganbridge had a concrete plant, a water plant, a sewage system, and telephone lines. Existing roads were repaired and upgraded and temporary roads were established to provide a route for materials between Tampa and the bridge site. To accommodate delivery of materials by boat from the Gulf the Mexico, a pier 1,100 feet in length was built.
Wide angle views of Ganbridge and dredging in 1923
In July 1923, pile driving commenced for the bridge span that covered two-and-a-half miles. Some piles were driven as much as forty-five feet through the sand into the bedrock. The sixteen-inch-square, reinforced-concrete piles were manufactured at the Ganbridge plant, and they ranged in length from twenty to sixty feet. By utilizing water jets and steam hammers, the pile drivers drove in four piles at a time. This was convenient since the piles were placed in groups of four, which were five feet apart across the width of the bridge. Each group of piles or “bents” was spaced twenty-four feet from an adjacent bent. The pile driving concluded within a year.
Workers using wooden forms to build the concrete road bed in 1923
The facts and figures associated with the bridge are remarkable. At Ganbridge, the materials arrived by truck, barge, and more than 1,600 railroad cars. A total work crew of 1,500 men labored for two years on the highway over the bay, using 170,000 bags of cement, 30,000 tons of gravel, and 15,000 tons of sand. In addition, they used 1,500,000 boardfeet of timber, 1,250,000 bricks, 7,000 tons of rock, 75,000 feet of electrical cable, and 50,000 feet of water pipe. Heavy equipment required 40,000 gallons of gasoline, 30,000 gallons of fuel oil, 2,500 tons of coal, and 9,000 gallons of lubricant.
|Construction at the Tampa end in 1923
1924 construction at the drawbridge
Don't miss this ENTIRE two-page spread in the Nov. 24, 1923 Evening Independent, loaded with promotional hype about the bridge and various points of interest surrounding it, such as Gandy's Island, Eugene Elliott's tours and his profit-making ventures on Weedon Island! (Portions transcribed below).
IMPORTANT INFORMATION TO WINTER RESIDENTS AND GUESTS OF ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.
You Can Visit And See All Of These Points of Interest Tomorrow
See Smithsonian Excavations and Exhibitions
Don't miss witnessing the Smithsonian Institution workmen at work engaged in the excavation of shell mounds, muck and sand in their recovery of archaeological specimens upon which pre-historic facts of the North American continent are being established.
Don't miss examining the huge trench dug into the side of the greatest shell mound on the west coast of Florida--the trench having been sunk through layer after layer of shell, earth and sand on down to water level. Go and see the workmen removing bits of pottery, stone and human bones. Go and talk with the assistant in charge of this Smithsonian work. You will find him cheerful, alert and instructive.
Go and examine the hills and pits dug on Weedon's Island and scratch about in the debris cast aside by the Smithsonian men and recover for yourself pieces of pottery, stone, shell and bone. It is the privilege of very few men, women and children of the North American continent to witness Smithsonian men at work, to understand and appreciate the scientific manner in which this work is conducted. This Smithsonian excavation is the one place in Florida to view and to understand--it is history in the making.
Visit The Bird Sanctuary
See the great bird sanctuary where thousands upon thousands of birds rest at night and where they built their nests and raised their young for untold centuries. This is not an exaggeration because the guano deposits at places are as much as ten feet in depth and on the average more than three feet indicating the use of this rookery for at least 250 years. See the heron, the bittern, species of the aigret, the crane, the loon, the plover, the snipe, and species of the duck in their native state. Bird Key, the Government preserve withheld from the public eye does not parallel this bird rookery. Don't fail to see it from the tower. This sight in itself is enough to warrant the trip.
State Clubs To Meet
Visit the location in Narvaez Park selected by Mr. Elliott as the location for the platform with a seating capacity of 500 in front of it, offered to all societies as their out of door meeting place for their winter sessions. Size it up and decide as to whether or not any other similar location possibly approaches it. Then when you decide it to be the meeting place of your next society meeting, make arrangements for its use free of chrge. This should be of special interest to all officials of state societies, clubs and other organizations. There is nothing like it and you should avail yourselves of this privilege and opportunity.
The Bridge is Built
Overcoming obstacles all the way, including bad weather, Gandy finally finished the long structure. The bridge formally opened to the public on November 20, 1924 "The bridge is built!" announced George S. Gandy himself at noon on Nov. 20, 1924, constituting one of the shortest speeches on record, but it packaged victory over the years of disappointments and discouragements which would have stumped a less determined person. Governor Cary A. Hardee untied a rope of flowers across the width of the bridge, symbolically uniting the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. The bridge attracted worldwide attention and many dignitaries, including the governors of seventeen states and politicians from as far away as Alaska and Maine, attended the festivities.
Thirty-thousand spectators jammed the bridge, and awards and praise were given to Gandy by everyone, including many who years before had ridiculed “Dad” for his crackpot idea. Area merchants had Gandy Bridge sales, and songs were written, including “Gandy Bridge,” by Flora Overly. That day, thanks largely to the foresight of “Dad” Gandy the twin cities were united into a community, and the Tampa Bay “area” was born. However, the ever humble Gandy insisted on sharing the credit. In a well received speech, he concluded:
People give me too much credit. Two thousand men were employed in the construction of the bridge. During the cold weather of last winter those men worked in the chilly water stripped to the skin, for eight hours a day. A doctor was engaged and kept at the bridge continually. He treated an average of 10 injuries a day – smashed fingers, sprained wrists and the thousand other casualties that follow in the train of a big construction job. Thank the Lord it's finished!
Click to read Nov. 21, 1924 St. Petersburg "Evening Independent" article about the ceremonies.
Four days later Tampa and St. Petersburg held a massive celebration. According to the official program for the festivities, the Gandy Bridge had become “the longest over-water highway in the world... attracting attention throughout the nation.”
Cars crossing the completed bridge in 1924
1926 Approach to Tampa toll gate and Tampa end of the Gandy
1929 Tampa Toll Gate
In addition to cutting the driving distance between St. Petersburg and Tampa from just under 50 miles to 19 miles, the Gandy Bridge had a lasting impact on the Tampa Bay area. Even before the span opened, the huge construction project attracted migrant labor. Many of the hundreds of men who traveled to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area to work on the Gandy Bridge remained after the project was completed. Some came from the Cayman Islands and labored from March until December, then went home for Christmas aboard two sailing ships. The bridge work in the colder climate of Tampa Bay was difficult for the Caymanians, who came to the region because of poor economic conditions in the islands.
James Nathaniel Tibbets, a shipbuilder in the Caymans, and the approximately dozen or so other Caymanians who worked on the span, were part of a long-standing Cayman connection with the Tampa Bay area that still exists today. The Tibbets family eventually established roots in St. Petersburg, and today, two sons of James Nathaniel Tibbets live in St. Petersburg.
The official 1924 Gandy bridge program publicized the following tolls: “Motorcycles - 25 cents; bicycles - 10 cents; double team - 75 cents; single team - 50 cents; saddle horse - 25 cents; in addition there is a charge of 10 cents per passenger; loose driven cattle or horses 20 cents a head.” The rate for an automobile with no passengers, which interestingly was not in the program, was the same as a double team, 75 cents, with an additional ten cents per passenger. Judging from the 30,000 people and 7,500 cars that steadily crossed the bridge on the Sunday after the grand opening, these rates did not hinder the success of Gandy’s enterprise.
Tampa toll gate in 1930
1934 Tampa end
THE STREETCAR TRACKS
The Gandy Bridge was built with streetcar tracks down the center, and it was to connect Tampa to St. Pete on the streetcar lines, but the route never materialized. Disston Ave. in St. Pete, was to be the main route to the bridge along the tracks.
May 19, 1937 article "House Committee Favors Gandy Bridge Inquiry"
Gandy Bridge toll receipts
August 15 & 16, 1942
Courtesy of Dick Wheeler
World War 2
Gandy Bridge operated as a toll span until World War II. Sen. Claude Pepper was instrumental in getting President Franklin D. Roosevelt to declare the bridge necessary to the war effort because of its use by MacDill Air Force personnel and so it was purchased by the U.S. government.
The bridge stopped collecting tolls on April 27, 1944 after it was seized by the government of Franklin D. Roosevelt. On December 23, 1945, a federal jury awarded The Gandy Company $2,383,642 in compensation for the property, plus $100,000 in interest.
Motorists in 1944 waiting 3 hours for the drawbridge
In August of 1947, the Gandy Bridge was repaved with "a new bituminous surface. The retread job will eliminate the hazard of abandoned streetcar rails which were slippery when wet and also made the bridge extremely narrow. A white stripe will be painted down the middle separating the two 12-1/2 foot lanes." 1947 Article and Photo "Gandy Bridge Gets Face Lifting"
At Left: Jun.27, 1985 article in The St. Petersburg Evening Independent, written by Pat Fenner.
"When St. Petersburg promoters conceived the idea of a bridge across Tampa Bay, they envisioned a streetcar line, with automobile tolls a secondary consideration. It was on that basis that Gandy secured the franchise. Consequently, the franchise required rails, and Gandy laid 'em."
Death and Family
Despite his heart condition, Gandy lived another 22 years after his bridge was completed. He lost his sight while in his 80s but continued being chauffeured to his office. Gandy died at age 95 on November 25, 1946 and was interred at Royal Palm South Cemetery in St. Petersburg.
George S. Gandy married Clara Frances around 1889 in Philadelphia. Clara died in 1935 in St. Petersburg, FL. They had five children: George S. Gandy, Jr. in 1890, Alfred L. Gandy in 1892, Clara F. Gandy in 1895, Ruth E. Gandy in 1899, and Marian W. Gandy in 1903. George Gandy Jr. had a son George S. Gandy, III and daughter Helen Gandy (O'Brien). George S. Gandy, III had a son George S. Gandy IV. Gandy descendants still live in the bay area.
Renovation and Building New Spans
By 1947 Senator Raymond Sheldon described the bridge as "outmoded, too narrow and a traffic bottleneck." In 1956 a second slightly higher, fixed span was added to the Gandy Bridge to serve westbound traffic. The first span would then serve eastbound traffic until 1975.
1956 view of the original 1924 span alongside the new 1956 span
This press photo taken Sep. 26, 1952 appeared in this Aug. 30, 1953 article below.
St. Petersburg Times - Sunday, Aug 30, 1953
CLOSER THAN YOU THINK - How far is Tampa from St. Petersburg? It's a lot closer than you think. Pictured here is the Tampa city limits sign eight tenths of a mile from the Pinellas end of the Gandy Bridge and four miles from the St. Petersburg city limits. This is a result of a recent legislative act enlarging the overall bounds of Tampa's corporate limits. Actually the city limits extend to the reflector in the right foreground which is the dividing line between Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. There's no explanation why the sign was not mounted at that point. Didn't want to appear to be bragging, perhaps. (Times photo by Bob Preston)
The Gandy Bridge circa 1957
Photo courtesy of Yvonne Colado Garren
A third span was opened to traffic on October 20, 1975 and was originally without street lighting. This replaced the original 1924 span which was serving eastbound traffic and was immediately dismantled.
On December 21, 1996, another parallel span was built in between the 1956 span and the 1975 span, alongside the 1975 span. The new bridge was initially opened to eastbound traffic while the 1975 bridge was closed to allow FDOT to install street lighting and conduct other bridge work. Westbound traffic at that time continued to utilize the 1956 bridge. The 1996 bridge was converted to westbound traffic in February 1997.
Traveling on the 1956 span in 1996 with the new 1996 span on the left
1956 Span Becomes the Friendship Trail
Years before, the Florida Department of Transportation deemed the 1956 bridge structurally deficient to vehicular traffic unless costly repairs were made. FDOT initially planned to demolish the middle section of the bridge (including the hump) and leave the remaining fishing pier segments intact. The demolished segments would have then been used for an artificial reef. When residents and community groups of both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties lobbied together against the FDOT and the governments of the two counties to save the 1956 bridge, FDOT dropped its demolition plan. After two years of hearings and funding issues, the 1956 bridge reopened to pedestrian and bicycle traffic on December 11, 1999 as the Friendship Trail Bridge.
The uppermost bridge is actually two spans, the 1996 & 1975 spans, and the lower bridge is the 1956 span as the Friendship Trail bridge. On November 6, 2008, the Friendship Trail was shut down "indefinitely" (though the ends remained open) after a state inspection determined that there were significant structural problems with the bridge's pylons. The bridge had been decaying for years, eventually forcing the closure of the span to vehicular traffic. However, the inspection yielded that the corrosion of the pylons had worsened and that the overall condition of the bridge was no longer suitable to keep it open due to safety issues.
December 20 was the "final nail in the coffin" for the Friendship Trail. An engineering report showed that the bridge could potentially collapse due to the amount of decay on the structure. Immediately after the report was released, Hillsborough and Pinellas County officials decided to shut the entire bridge down permanently. Nothing will be able to be done to the structure until funds are raised. A revised May report suggests the following:
$10 Million to retrofit both ends of the bridge ONLY. $15 Million to retrofit the entire structure. $17 Million to demolish the bridge ONLY. $19 Million to demolish and rebuild the bridge. After a series of meetings in May, June, and July, the Friendship Trail bridge oversight committee voted to consider the $15 million dollar option to retrofit the entire bridge, which would add about 10 years to its lifespan. Supporters of the move hope that funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act could help get the retrofit project started.
The Friendship Trail bridge on the left (original 1956 span) and the 1996 span on the right (the 1975 span is hidden to the right of it.)
The Gandy spans U.S. Route 92 across Old Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg to Tampa, and carries an average daily traffic count of 35,000 vehicles (number of vehicles a year divided by 365.) It is maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation. The eastbound total length is 14,859 feet and is 40.4 feet wide; the westbound is 13,886 feet long and 39.7 feet wide.
The four spans are: 1924 (demolished) 1956 (abandoned) 1975 (eastbound) 1997 (westbound)
The 1975 span and the 1996 span to the right of it
Interesting newspaper articles about George Gandy and his bridge:
1922, Oct. 30 - Why I Propose To Help Gandy
1923, Dec. 18 - Finish Gandy Bridge Fills
1956, Apr. 18 - Gandy Bridge, Dream in 1910, Reality in 1924
Sources for info and pictures:
SPANS OF TIME: The Contributions of George S. Gandy, Ben T. Davis and Courtney Campbell to the
Development of the Tampa Bay Area, by David W. Adams
This is a great source, it was written just 3 days before the bridge opened in 1924:
He Laughed at the Word "Impossible" by Karl H. Grismer