Western Brooklyn

25 Things You May Not Have Known About The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

23

verrazano-narrows bridge

Opened on November 21, 1964, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge celebrates its 50th anniversary this week, so we’re honoring the occasion by looking at some of the statistics, quirks, and interesting bits of info that make up the massive crossing’s history. From parachuting off its tower, to a cameo in Saturday Night Fever, to nearly 22 dozen light bulbs, here are 25 things you may not have know about the bridge.

1. It could have been a tunnel, instead. The original discussion for crossing the Narrows began in 1888 — but that was for a tunnel. After a bridge was proposed and the design nixed, they went back to the tunnel idea, and actually began digging. The abandoned tunnels, which only went 150 feet but still remain, were nicknamed “Hylan’s Holes” after then-Mayor John F. Hylan, who championed the failed project. It went back and forth between tunnel/bridge until talk about a bridge, under the recommendation of Robert Moses, became serious in 1946.

2. It was built in five years. It took 16 years to build the Brooklyn Bridge (completed 81 years before the Verrazano), and one year and 45 days to build the Empire State Building (completed 33 years before the Verrazano).

3. It weighs 1,265,000 tons, making it the world’s heaviest bridge at the time it opened.

4. The cost to build the bridge, in 1964 dollars, was $320 million — which would be around $2.45 billion today.

Verrazano Bridge 1960 Brooklyn
Source: Matthew Proujansky via Wikimedia Commons

5. About 7,000 people were displaced in Bay Ridge to make room for the bridge, including dentist Henry Amen, whose office was leveled, but who found a new one nearby — he is still practicing there today at age 88.

6. The length of its central span, which made it the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened, is 4,260 feet, the equivalent of just over 14 football fields. It lost that title in 1981, and is currently the eleventh longest in the world; but it’s still the longest in the United States.

7. About 12,000 men worked on its construction, and three men died in falls. Workers walked off the job for four days, demanding safety nets, which they got, and which, afterward, caught and saved three more workers who also fell. None of the workers were invited to the opening; instead they attended a mass for the three victims.

8. Nobody is buried in the structure’s foundation, like they claim in Saturday Night Fever. In the film, the bridge symbolizes freedom and a better life…in Staten Island. The film was released 20 years after the groundbreaking of the bridge — that year, 1959, the population of Staten Island was 220,000; by 1980, it was 352,000, so Tony wasn’t alone in these thoughts.


9. The first driver to cross the bridge wore a rented tuxedo and piloted a “pale blue Cadillac convertible with flags flapping from the fenders,” nabbing the distinction because he had parked behind the Staten Island toll for a week, guaranteeing the position.

10. The toll to cross the bridge on the first day was 50 cents (which would be $3.84 today). The toll for cars today — which is only paid when crossing from Brooklyn to Staten Island — is $15 cash ($1.95 in 1964), or $10.66 using an E-ZPass.

11. Because large cruise ships must pass beneath it to get to the port of New York and New Jersey, they have to take clearance under the bridge into account when designing ships. The Queen Mary 2 was described as “a bit dumpy” because of that height consideration in its design.

Source: A. Golden/Flickr
Source: A. Golden/Flickr

12. Chief architect Othmar Ammann designed a total of six New York City-area bridges: George Washington, Bayonne, Triborough, Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Verrazano-Narrows.

13. The lower deck did not open at the same time as the upper deck. When traffic demand grew beyond projections, work to open the lower level accelerated, and instead of opening it in 1975, it opened in 1969.

14. The toll is only one-way largely because of air pollution. After the bridge opened, traffic began backing up on Staten Island, and residents complained about the air quality, leading to a change in the toll collection in 1986, which is also the same time Staten Island residents began getting a discount to cross the bridge.

Source: NYC Dept of Records
Source: NYC Dept of Records

15. Animals sometimes disrupt traffic on the bridge. A few examples: This year two deer shut down traffic on the bridge for about 10 minutes. In 2011, truck drivers coordinated to stop traffic after a jerk threw a kitten out of a moving car; the cat was okay, though, and is living the good life with Whoopie Goldberg. In 2009, an injured Canada goose that escaped from the nearby Poly Prep campus held up traffic for about half an hour.

16. But animals don’t always get in the way on the span — some make the bridge their home. Like these peregrine falcons.

17. The roadway of the bridge is 12 feet lower in the summer than in the winter because of thermal expansion.

18. It takes about 11,530 gallons of paint to fancy-up and protect the bridge.

19. It has 262 lights, which, as of 2009, are all LED bulbs — those were installed four years before the city announced plans to use LED bulbs in all its street lights.

Source: edgie168/Flickr
Source: edgie168/Flickr

20. Despite efforts to discourage it, the bridge is often the site of suicides and suicide attempts — as of January of this year, it’s been the scene of at least eight suicides and six more attempts since December 2011. The MTA has installed signs and phones — with the idea they’ll be used to call suicide prevention hotlines — along the span in an attempt to stop potential jumpers, but they do not have plans to install fencing, which has been shown to be an effective deterrent on other bridges.

21. On June 28, 1976, the world’s largest American flag was hung on the bridge to celebrate the country’s bicentennial. The designer of the flag neglected to account for how windy it’d be up on the bridge, and the 71,000-square-foot flag was shredded in just a few hours. The current largest American flag is apparently flying in North Korea.

22. The bridge was scorched after a fully-loaded oil tanker, the Esso Brussels, and a container ship, the Sea Witch, collided in the middle of the night on June 1, 1973. They became entangled, crude oil caught fire, and the two ships were propelled by the still-running engines of the Sea Witch through the Narrows, passing below the bridge — scorching the bridge 228 feet above, which managed to merely close the lower deck for two days — before running aground in Gravesend Bay. Tragically, 16 men lost their lives in the collision.

Marathon Verrazano Bridge
Source: Martineric via Wikimedia Commons

23. Sometimes because of the weather, runners in the New York City Marathon, which has started from the Staten Island side of the bridge since 1976, strip off so many pieces of clothing on the first stretch across the suspension that organizers have to “literally plow them into piles.”

24. In 1982 John Carta was charged with “illegal parachuting” and more after he made a 16,000-foot jump and landed on a tower of the bridge, where he switched parachutes and then jumped again, this time to the water below, where police were waiting for him.

25. Yes, the name of the bridge is missing a Z. The spelling of the name of Giovanni da Verrazzano, the Italian navigator credited as the first European to explore New York Bay, was, at the time, advocated by some Italians as having two Zs, but apparently then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller preferred the single Z, sometimes called the American spelling of it. These days, many businesses in the area use the spelling with the single Z in their names.

Advertisement
Comment policy

23 COMMENTS

  1. Another interesting fact is that because of the height of the towers (693 ft or 211 m) and their distance apart (4,260 ft or 1,298 m), the curvature of the Earth’s surface had to be taken into account when designing the bridge—the towers are 15⁄8 inches (41.275 mm) farther apart at their tops than at their bases.[13][3]

  2. I grew up on Bay 19th St and Shore Parkway in the 50s and 60s and watched the bridge being built. During the construction period my friend David and I made plans to ride our bikes across it on the day that it opened. We were 2 very disappointed 15 year olds when a month before opening day we learned that there was not going to be a walkway or a bike path!

  3. I know 100+ more facts about this bridge that most folks will never know. One of my favorites to climb and photograph, LEGALLY!!

  4. Dave –

    I think I’ve seen your photos, and they are great. (Virtually all monochrome, if I recall correctly.) I’d love to get the opportunity to take similar shots, but I’d use color AND go for different effects.

    Chris

  5. so it takes another 50 yrs. for the STUPID STATE F N.Y. to build another bridge a replacement look its the NIGGARDLY N.Y. approach to its infrastructure. actually to build anything in the stupid state of n.y. you need A penal purpose : ELECT A CUOMO AND BUILD A JAIL IN SULLIVAN COUNTY!AGAIN no wonder n.y is the INFRASTRUCURAL TOILET BOWL OF AMERICA.FORGET THE EMPIRE STATE delete it i suggest a picture of the notorious garbage barge remember 1987 and that stink,in blasphemous barge docked in GRAVESEND BAY BROOKLYN that THAT atrocious picture should be SUPERIMPOSED on every liscence plate in your stupid state as the most appropriate representation of the CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE AND DERELICTION OF DUTY on the part of the BOOTLESS BLASPHEMOUS BENIGHTED STATE CAPITOL IN ALBANY.

  6. My Father-In-Law, Pat, told me a story about this bridge. Before construction, crews pulled chain link fence posts from the rock island where the tower would go. The posts were set in lead so they had a large chunk of lead on the bottom of each after being pulled out. Pat, and his friend Phil, took a boat out to where the pipes where, knocked the lead off with a large hammer, took the lead and loaded it in a model T then drove to the scrap yard where they cashed it in.

  7. Dave, maybe you should write an article with pictures about the bridge. So many people are interested in knowing about it’s history and trivia. In this article they write about suicides, but not about murders! My friend was murdered on the bridge over 46 yrs. ago. She broke up with her boyfriend (they were engaged) who was very controlling and he asked to talk to her, took her for a ride over the bridge, & halfway through, she told him that she was not going back with him, as he drove, he took out a gun & shot her in the head, and said: If you’re not mine, you’re nobody’s!! He said all this when the police came to the bridge. She was a beautiful blond, sweet, gorgeous girl. He was a hot head, tough guy, that came from Italy. They were both in their twenties. Her name was Louise LaGrecca.

  8. I live in Staten Island & I love to read about the Verrazano Bridge. Yet, In this article they mention about the suicides, but not about murders! My
    friend was murdered on the bridge over 46 yrs. ago. She broke up with
    her boyfriend (they were engaged) who was very controlling and he asked
    to talk to her, took her for a ride over the bridge, & halfway
    through, she told him that she was not going back with him, as he drove,
    he took out a gun & shot her in the head, and said: If you’re not
    mine, you’re nobody’s!! He said all this when the police came to the
    bridge. She was a beautiful blue-eyed blond, sweet, gorgeous girl. He was a hot
    head, tough guy, that came from Italy. They were both in their
    twenties. Her name was Louise LaGrecca. Everyone was devastated. It was a tragedy. A young woman murdered, and a young man going to jail for a long time. Her sister almost lost it. Her sister was the opposite of her. Black long hair, olive skin, beautiful face, and when they were together they called attention wherever they went. Two years after Louîse’s death, her mother her mother had a baby girl, that looked exactly like Louise. Blond hair, very fair…..and blue eyes!!!!

  9. Very sorry to hear this story of your friend, Sonia. I had never heard about this incident. Unfortunately, the Internet wasn’t very helpful. The few news articles available are contradictory in the details, or only partially complete, and none from after the funeral or about the trial. If you know of a source with more information about the case, I’d like to read more.

  10. great article. We need to return the Z in Verrazano! It is an insult to our Italian heritage. When my grandparents arrived at Ellis Island, they too spelled our name wrong! Also, my grandparents had a home between Bay 8th and 9th. We could hear the jackhammers all day during the construction. Then one day, we were able to see the tower on the Brooklyn side! Amazing.

  11. Sorry 7thWheel, No construction job on earth takes the curvature into account.
    Do you really think a 1964 bridge crew could build something straight?
    I’ll bet in high wind, the towers sway more than 1 5/8″, the supposed magic number of
    the curvature of the earth.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here