What role can a urban designer have in preserving history?
In the early 2000’s, the City of Healdsburg, California took over ownership of its one bridge across the Russian River from the California Department of Transportation. Almost immediately there was a call from a number of local groups to tear the bridge down over its presumed obsolescence and structural insufficiency. At the same time there were calls to preserve the bridge, since it had been such an important landmark throughout the history of the town.
The existing bridge is located at the eastern end of Healdsburg Avenue, at the edge of town, and had for years served as the town’s primary connection to Highway 101. The image below shows the relative proximity to the town and it’s sole connection to Memorial Park.
The image below depicts a SketchUp model of the bridge, as viewed from the perspective of Memorial Park.
The engineering consultant hired by the city took the CalDOT evaluation of the bridge’s condition (at that time not knowing what that the report was in error), and developed two separate scenarios which were being considered as potential preferred alternatives. Both proposals indicated that the designs’ visual impact would be minimal. Unfortunately, the engineering consultant had only presented plans and elevations of their proposals for the public to evaluate and determine whether they would concur with their assessment.
The engineering consultants proposals
The following images are recreations of the proposals made by the engineering consultant, but paired with their three dimensional impact — as seen from the vantage point of Memorial Park (from the same perspective of the SketchUp model depicted above).
Preferred Alternative A
Preferred Alternative B
Rehabilitation as cost-saving alternative
Working with interested preservation groups, which included a retired structural engineer, it was determined that the original CalDOT structural assessment of the bridge was in error. The bridge, despite needing some minor structural repairs and seismic upgrades, had never presented a danger to the public or heavy vehicular traffic. What was needed was a set of images that would evoke the fond memories of the bridge, the town’s historic ties to the Russian River, and a convincing (cost effective) argument for preservation.
The following hand sketches were prepared with using the SketchUp model as an underlay, with ink and colored pencil & marker final illustrations.
This illustrative exercise served to rally a unique blend of preservationists and fiscal conservatives, Friends of the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge. The old CalDOT rating was set aside, the bridge was added to the Historic Registry, a significant preservation grant was awarded, and the bridge is now being rehabilitated in situ.