The Magnolia Bridge, a favorite Bayou St. John landmark, has a long history as well as a long history of names.
The hand-cranked swivel bridge was built in the late 1800s when Bayou St. John was still in use as a commercial waterway. In 1908-1909, the bridge was moved about a quarter-mile from its original location at Esplanade Avenue to Harding Street. Known as the Magnolia Garden Bridge thanks to a nearby entertainment venue by the same name, the move cost $30,000, a price tag that included deepening the bayou to ensure the stability of the bridge to support the mule-drawn cart and automobile traffic.
In 1934, pedestrian walkways were added to protect Holy Rosary Elementary and Cabrini High School students walking to school, and further refurbishing occurred during a 1936 WPA project. At this time, city maps and plans interchangeably referred to it as Magnolia Parkway Bridge and Magnolia Bridge. But for many of the following decades the bridge was called the Harding Bridge (after the street it ran onto), according to New Orleans Street Department records.
In 1971, Bayou St. John was drained and the bridge was found to have cracked abutments and rotted pilings below the water line, as well as missing boards above it. Major repairs were deemed low priority because its small size restricted the amount and type of traffic that used it. The bridge was declared a pedestrian-only bridge in 1972.
In 1990, a City Council ordinance was passed, making “Magnolia Bridge” the official name. But memory is short when it comes to bridge names, and in the 2000s it was often called Cabrini Bridge, due to its proximity to Cabrini High.
Despite all the name changes, Magnolia Bridge has been a popular neighborhood gathering spot for performances, picnics, sunset drinking clubs and weddings for many years. More refurbishment and repair in 2018-2019 will certainly continue to entice people to take a little rest over Bayou St. John for many years to come.
Dedication of the recently refurbished Magnolia Bridge, circa 1989. Standing at the center is Mayor Sidney J. Barthelemy, with Archbishop Phillip Hannan next to him on the left side of the photo and Sheriff Charles Foti on the right side, two people over from the Mayor. The 1989 improvements included replacing the wooden walkway, repairing and repainting metal elements, and new landscaping, and were a joint effort between the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, the Sheriff’s Office, Cabrini High’s Parent Association and the city.