Transportation infrastructure – particularly bridges and freeways – sometimes gets left out of discussion about historic preservation. But the structures that connect cities often have stories that rival famous urban buildings and landmarks. Consider the artistry of Siah Armajani’s pedestrian bridge connecting the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with Loring Park, or the gleaming new I-35 St. Anthony Falls bridge and one can see that roads and bridges have the potential to be historic.
While many Minneapolis bridges and freeways may lack panache, there are a few examples of thoughtful and creative design throughout the city – some of which may not be immediately noticed by passing motorists. For instance, the Hennepin Avenue Bridge from Downtown Minneapolis to Nicollet Island may be considered small by modern standards, but it marks one of the most historic sites in the city: the location of the first permanent river crossing on the upper Mississippi. Interstate 94’s path through Minneapolis was subject of much debate when
construction began in the 1960s, but one of its features – the Lowry Hill Tunnel – is notable because it prevented significant disruption to an historic neighborhood.
Preservation is an ongoing process that breathes new life into historic city structures, and
Minneapolis highways and bridges are no exception. Today, the graceful F.W. Cappelen Bridge
(better known as the Franklin Avenue Bridge) is undergoing a major renovation to preserve the
nearly 100 year-old bridge’s structural integrity and historic embellishments. And Downtown
Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall – first designed and built in the 1960s by famed landscape architect
Lawrence Halperin – is now finishing a $50 million facelift to further enhance the historic mall’s
appeal and utility.
Beautiful and historic buildings may get the most glory when it comes to preservation, but the
hard-working bridges, tunnels and roadways of Minneapolis all have stories worth telling and
features worth saving.