The Seventh Street Bridge is noteworthy for the statues of lions on each end, as well as its unique christening.
The bridge opened March17, 1917, amid great fanfare and public enthusiasm. Today, the bridge is in need of repair or replacement, and Stanislaus County and the city of Modesto have set their sights on finding a solution.
The bridge was built to replace an 1897 trestle-type wagon bridge, which was narrow and had become antiquated in the budding automobile era. At the time, the oldest bridge standing in Modesto was the 1906 Dry Creek Bridge. That bridge was known for its reinforced concrete construction, which was a trademark of pioneer bridge builder John B. Leonard. It was Leonard who, 10 years later, built Modestos Lion Bridge.
The grand-opening celebration for the Lion Bridge was typical of old Modesto, featuring two parades, one on the Modesto side of the bridge and the other on the Ceres side, each culminating on the span with elaborate ceremonies. Coordinated by the Chamber of Commerce, the celebration included band music, a childrens choir, speeches and the highlight, which was the christening of the bridge with a bottle of milk.
The use of milk was noted by the Modesto Morning Herald as being unique and the first time in history that a bridge had been christened by milk. The milk reflected the prohibition mood of the times. In 1917, area voters passed what was called a bone dry proposition. It later was declared unconstitutional. This happened 21/2 years before the National Prohibition Act became law in January 1920.
Two provocative questions remain, each pertaining to the concrete lions that guard each end of the bridge. Who made the lions, and why?
A 1973 Modesto Bee article reported that the idea of the lions originated with bridge worker George Harding. He claimed that, although some people would have preferred cows instead of lions, the idea of lions fortunately prevailed. Modestos lions were cast in San Francisco by an Italian craftsman who, working in his basement, made animals, cornices and other statuary for fountains and public buildings.
The citys Lion Bridge will soon be celebrating its 100th birthday, making us lament: If only bridges could talk!
Bare is the author of several books about area history and is the official historian of the McHenry Mansion. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.