Exploring Newport’s Yaquina Bridge

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The Yaquina Bay Bridge that links Newport, Oregon with South Beach has been called The Green Lady for the green arch that rises 600 feet into the sky. One of five Oregon Coast bridges designed by Conde McCullough and erected between 1934 and 1936, the bridge bears the marks of 81 years of weather, waves, birds, cars, and people. Memories flood my mind, even though I have only been here 21 years, not even a third of the bridge’s lifetime: Marches to celebrate sobriety and to protest war, a parade of old cars and people in costumes celebrating the bridge’s 75th anniversary, flowers tied to the posts in memory of six-year-old London McCabe, whose mother threw him off the bridge to his death in 2014. Police reports document others who committed suicide by slipping over the side of the bridge.

Countless tourists have walked the bridge, stopping to take pictures of the bay to the east and the jetty leading into the ocean to the west, of the marina, the coast guard station, the fishing pier, sea lions, and fishing boats followed by flocks of gulls. Others walk or jog the bridge for exercise or simply to get to the other side. Yaq. bridge 71417P

Yaq. bridge 71417EI have been reading a book called Crossings, about the construction of the coastal bridges. Written by Judy Fleagle and Richard Knox Smith, it tells the story of McCullough’s designs and how hundreds of workers laboring through fog, sun, rain and wind made them real. Before the bridges, travelers on the Coast Highway were forced to take ferry boats across the bays and rivers in Newport, Waldport, Florence, Reedsport, and Coos Bay. It made for a mighty long trip, and if you missed the last ferry of the day, you had to stay the night. A friend of my father’s who lived here in those early days remembers taking blankets when he went to town, just in case he couldn’t get back to the other side of the bay before nightfall.

All but one of the five bridges are still in use. The Alsea Bay Bridge in Waldport was replaced by a new bridge in 1991, but the builders left some of the gothic pillars and other markers in place. Someday The Green Lady will go, too. Highway experts are already warning that, despite frequent maintenance, it’s getting too old and too narrow to accommodate modern traffic loads, especially as development increases in South Beach. A strong earthquake or tsunami might take it down. But today it stands as the symbol Newport uses as its logo and the one thing everybody wants to photograph.

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I cross the 3,223-foot Yaquina Bay Bridge nearly every day by car, but I recently walked it for the first time. I’d always meant to but never got around to it. Getting new tires at Les Schwab, right at the northern end of the bridge, gave me a perfect excuse. It only took a half hour to cross the bridge and come back, feeling triumphant. Also tired. I never realized how much of the bridge was uphill.

The weather was sunny with a light breeze as I played tourist, noting the sights on and off the bridge that I can’t see from the seat of my car. No wonder the tourists gawk and creep along in their cars. Below, I saw a lone guy clamming at low tide, fishermen on the pier, a family on the beach, a gull cruising to a landing on the sand, and tsunami evacuation signs pointing to the hill southwest of the bridge. Inside the little “houses” under the obelisks near the center of the bridge, graffiti told stories the writers felt compelled to share.

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Back in the ’30s, McCullough surely never dreamed there would be a “webcam” attached at the north end of the bridge to feed pictures to the Internet, that bike racers and marathon runners would include the bridge in their course, or that a steady stream of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and RVs would fill the air with exhaust fumes. But The Green Lady is still a beauty and worth the walk.

Text and photos copyright 2017 Sue Fagalde Lick

 

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Tragedy on Newport’s Yaquina Bridge


Something awful happened in my little town of Newport, Oregon a week ago today. A woman threw her six-year-old son off the Yaquina Bay Bridge. It’s 130 feet high, and the water is so cold no one can survive in it for more than few minutes. The mother, Jillian McCabe called 911 herself, telling the dispatcher, “I just threw my son off the bridge.”
That was about 6:30 p.m. Emergency crews searched all around. They closed the bridge to traffic. About 10:30, a man who lives about a mile up the bay, found the boy’s body. I know the man, one of the sweetest guys ever. He will never be the same, nor will the others who helped bring little London McCabe out of the water.
The mother is in jail with $1 million bail, facing murder charges. The whole community has been grieving as the story came out. London was severely autistic; he screamed all the time. Meanwhile his dad was disabled with multiple sclerosis. The mom had posted pleas online asking for financial help and had gotten some. There were reports that she was suffering from mental problems herself. But nobody thought this would happen. According to the latest news reports, she may not be well enough to stand trial. It’s all unbearably sad for her and the whole family.
A heartbroken community decorated the bridge with balloons, flowers and stuffed animals. Workers took the contributions off the bridge for safety reasons and created memorials at both sides of the road on the south end of the bridge, memorials to which people keep adding. There have been candlelight vigils, prayers and countless news reports. Teachers and mental health workers have been working to reassure worried children that they are safe, that this won’t happen to them. Public officials are talking about the need for early intervention to help troubled families. I don’t know what could have stopped this from happening, but we all feel like somebody should have done something.
Those who have lived here a while recall the last time something similar happened, when Christian Longo murdered his family in 2001. Two of his children were found in the water near Alsea Bay, outside Waldport. The other child and his wife were located in the water of Yaquina Bay very near where London’s body turned up. Longo is on death row now, found guilty of murder.
When we drive across the bridge now, we slow our cars. We look at the water, think about what it would feel like to fall, wonder if London felt anything on the way down, if he was scared, if he felt the cold water, hoping he just felt like he was flying and it was the best time he ever had.

Celebrating the Yaquina Bay Bridge

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Usually what locals want most from driving over the Yaquina Bay Bridge is to get over it quickly. We mutter at tourists who take their time, gawking at the ocean to the west and the bay to the east. Yeah, yeah, it’s pretty, but move along.
Some days it’s so foggy you can’t see anything on either side. Other days, it’s so windy, you’re just trying to stay in your lane. And on other more benevolent days when the sun shines, and you see hills in the distance and sailboats bobbing in the bay, you think, I’m so lucky to live here.
Yesterday, Sunday, Oct. 3, the scene on the bridge was different. The people of Newport and surrounding towns turned out en masse—and on foot—to celebrate the bridge’s 75th anniversary. Our art deco masterpiece opened in 1936, part of a chain of bridges by architect Conde McCullough that finally provided a way for people to drive the Oregon Coast without having take a ferry across the waterways.
It really is a beautiful bridge, painted a soft green, its arches swirling into the sky, its pillars artful reminders of an earlier time when life moved more slowly and nobody was tempted to use a cell phone while speeding across the bridge.
The celebration has been going on for a month, with talks, displays in the historical museums, and big banners across the bridge and in front of Newport City Hall. Two friends, Matt Love and Judy Fleagle, published new books about the bridge.
It all crescendoed in yesterday’s festivities. First, everyone was invited to walk across the bridge at noon. The Newport High School Marching Band led the way, followed by pedestrians, a fleet of 1930s-vintage vehicles, and bicycles. Some folks dressed ‘30s-style while most put on their fleece and slickers. Rain was coming. Fortunately, it held off until the bridge had been crossed.
Under the bridge, folks gathered for a community picnic, complete with hot dogs, music, vendors and speeches. What a great feeling when people come together like this. It’s one of the things I love most about living on the Oregon Coast.
My photos were shot while I was driving southbound across the bridge on the way home from church.The next time I cross the bridge, I’ll probably be looking around like a tourist. What’s the rush?
By the way, it’s pronounced Ya-KWIN-na. We former Californians all have to learn that it’s not Spanish. It’s a native American name.