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Weird Hoboken - Hoboken's Phantom Bridge

Hoboken's Phantom Bridge - Written By: William Demontreux

Today, one backyard along 12th Street in Hoboken is five feet wider than it was two years ago. Because that's when Hoboken's "Phantom Bridge" mysteriously disappeared, thanks to rising property taxes and the need for "a little more space."

Once located in the backyard of 1200 Garden Street, was a massive eight-foot-tall block of concrete. Cut into its side was the inscription: "Foundation Laid-North River Bridge Co.-1895." It was to be the 57th St. Bridge, linking Hoboken and Manhattan, and one of the grandest projects in the history of American engineering.

The brainchild of Gustav Lindenthal, an Austrian-born bridge builder, the 57th St. Bridge was to be nearly twice the size of the yet to be constructed George Washington Bridge. It would be 6,000 feet long, 200 feet above the Hudson River, and 200 feet wide. It was to carry 12 railroads, 24 lanes of traffic and two promenades. Lindenthal envisioned a single span, anchored on both side by cables, soaring across the waterway. It would have been quite a site, and revolutionary compared to the tried and true method of using heavy cantilevers and arches.

Although the cornerstone was laid, a series of bad breaks plagued the North River Bridge Co. The 1898 Depression and the coming of World War One halted construction. After the war, Lindenthal again revised his plan to suit the modern needs of the automobile, adding a second layer to accommodate the anticipated traffic jams of the 1920's. The formation of the Port Authority in 1921 claimed the span would hinder navigation, and the railroads decided to tunnel, leaving the Hudson County bridge builders to redirect their plans once again. Opposition also came from local businessmen and various Chambers of Commerce. In 1933, the secretary of transportation rejected the revised plans because they would have competed with the Lincoln Tunnel, which opened four years later. It seems the project was ill-fated ever since those first few words were chiseled into the now vanished cornerstone.

Until the day he died, Lindenthal fought to build the bridge. Before an operation at the age of 85, he dictated a statement to his daughter that read: "I have informed my physicians of my desire to see the bridge a reality and, as I can live only if they operate, I have unhesitatingly made my choice, knowing full well the odds against me."

His friends claimed fighting to build the bridge kept him alive. At his deathbed, before he fell into a coma, he still discussed the span which would never be built. Lindenthal died a wealthy man in 1935 on his 250 acre farm in Metuchen. His victories were the bridges in New York that he designed-the Hell Gate, Manhattan, Queensboro and Williamsburg. His defeat was the abandoned 57th St. Bridge project. Walking Hoboken's narrow 12th street today, one could only imagine what the town would have looked like if the bridge had been built. The neighborhood would have been destroyed, and more than likely Hoboken would have become covered with exit and entrance ramps.

When we asked a neighbor what happened to the cornerstone, she replied, "They were just tired of it. They needed the space for the kids to play in the backyard." We were told that the stone had been removed, and then demolished.

And so it would seem that this curious reminder of one man's grand vision, like so many of our state's great landmarks, has passed into forgotten history like so much water under the bridge-that nearly was.

Phantom Bridge Was Not Hoboken's Dear WNJ: One of the best parts of your "guide" are the rebuttals from the people who know the real facts on an article in your magazine-only to be followed by another expert on the same article, but with a completely different set of facts. Now it's my turn. In issue #10, pg.41, Hoboken's "Phantom Bridge" stated that the bridge was supposed to run from NYC to Hoboken. But in the Daily News Magazine, dated Nov. 1988, there was a book review of Rebecca Read Shanor's book "The City That Never Was," and the lead off picture was Gustav Lindenthal's 57th Street bridge. It stated that it was to run from New York City's 57th Street to 50th Street in Weehawken. I'm sending a drawing of the bridge.

This was taken from Scientific American, dated June 25, 1921.
- William Demontreux