The historic Magnolia Bridge over Bayou St. John has been closed to vehicles for decades but it still sees plenty of traffic. The iron span, a durable relic of the bayou’s history as a commercial waterway, serves as a daily gathering spot for neighbors out enjoying the bayou scenery and it’s been pressed into service as a makeshift venue for countless community events, commemorations and even a few weddings.
But the bridge, sometimes colloquially called the Cabrini Bridge because of its location near Cabrini High School, has fallen victim to neglect, with rust and corrosion taking their tolls. In response, a new community effort called Re-Bridge is out to harness some of the good feelings people have for the bridge and the bayou in general to push for the structure’s rehabilitation.
“This is a very important bridge not just to people in the neighborhood but to people all over the city,” says Rachel Dangermond, chair of the committee behind the Re-Bridge effort.
Re-Bridge is raising local dollars to match federal transportation funds awarded for repairs to the bridge in 2011. They host a gala each fall, and in March the group held its second annual “Boilin’ for the Bridges,” a community crawfish boil and fundraiser for the project.
Re-Bridge is also working on restoration of the Dumaine Bridge, a short roadway span built nearby in 1951 that is also in need of repair. The group is working with City Hall for this part of the project.
The Magnolia Bridge dates to the late 19th century and Re-Bridge members believe it may be the oldest existing bridge in the city. Designed as a swing bridge, it could pivot at its center to allow passage of the commercial vessels, barges and houseboats that once plied the bayou waters. The bridge itself was built to handle heavy loads and it originally included a streetcar track.
Re-Bridge members want to see the bridges repainted and receive needed structural repairs, and they want to add lighting and improve the pedestrian approaches to them.
“We don’t want to change anything about the bridges, it’s about restoring them,” says Dangermond. “We’re also establishing a 20-year maintenance fund so it never gets to this point again.”
For details on the effort, see ReBridge.org.