By Leo Wilson
One of my earliest memories of Bankers Hill was walking across the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge. It was a rickety, old, wooden bridge that sparked safety concerns. Several years later, it appeared that I would never walk over the bridge ever again.
The Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge was closed because of safety concerns and was facing demolition. Thankfully, this did not happen, in large part because the local Bankers Hill community rose up to save this treasured old bridge.
The Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge was built in 1905. It is one of the few remaining wood trestle bridges in San Diego. The bridge — designed by a city engineer named George A. d’Hemecourt — is 236 feet long and 60 feet tall.
As with the Spruce Street Bridge, the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge was built to provide access to the Fourth Avenue trolley for those who resided across a canyon in western Bankers Hill.
For over 80 years, the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge was a neighborhood landmark. However, in July 1987, it was declared unsafe and closed. A city inspector found that it was infested with termites, with some of its wooden structure rotting.
The unannounced closure came as a shock to the Bankers Hill community, as did a consultant’s report to the San Diego City Council that the bridge was little used and unnecessary. The consultant recommended the bridge should be torn down and not replaced.
The Bankers Hill neighborhood rallied to save the bridge; over 1,000 people signed petitions to preserve it. Local residents pointed out the bridge’s deck planks had already been replaced in 1974, and the bridge’s trestle bases were reinforced with concrete in 1981.
More importantly, they stated the bridge was a Bankers Hill landmark that needed to be preserved. Elinor Meadows, who lived a short distance north of the bridge, was a leader in this preservation effort. According to a Nov. 28, 1987 article from the Los Angeles Times, she placed a sign on the bridge which read:
“I am an old bridge. I was the pioneer structure across a lovely canyon. I have carried my share of walkers. I have provided a place to view the bay, a quiet place to pause, to stop and think. I have seen many changes. The bay is busy, the air is heavy, the streets are crowded. My people need me more than ever. But where are they? No one crosses me now. It’s enough to make an old bridge weep.”
In November 1987, the San Diego Historic Site Board designated the bridge as historic landmark, potentially saving it from demolition. The city agreed to restore the bridge at a cost of about $250,000. The original cost to build the bridge in 1905 was $850.
After a two-year restoration, the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge opened again in 1990. About 70 percent of the wooden bridge was replaced, including support beams, decking and handrails. The replacement wood was pressure-treated Douglas fir. The bridge has remained open, except for about five months in 2011, after a eucalyptus tree fell on it.
If it hadn’t been for Elinor Meadows and other Bankers Hill community activists back in 1987, the Quince Street Pedestrian Bridge would likely have suffered the fate of the hallowed Vermont Street Pedestrian Bridge, which was torn down in 1980, despite the city’s pledge to preserve it into the next century.
— Leo Wilson is administrator for Metro San Diego CDC and is a Bankers Hill resident.
Published in Uptown News on May 18, 2018
The Metro San Diego CDC will meet on Monday, April 23, 2018 from 4:00-5:00 p.m. The location will be the 10th floor conference room (Room 1050) of the Manchester Financial Center, at 2500 Fifth Avenue.
The Metro San Diego Board of Directors/Charter Committee met on Monday, March 26, 2018.
1.) There was a presentation by representatives of two “dockless” bicycle sharing programs: Limebike and Ofo Bike. Both indicated they had very high usage; Limebike in their first four weeks had about 21,000 riders, who took 55,000 trips. A dockless bike can be rented by using an app; at a cost only a $1.00 for a half/hour or hour. Each program was offering initial free rides. Both company representatives indicated their programs were attempting to educate their users so they parked their bicycles appropriately — avoiding walkways, driveways and doorways. The presentation were favorably received; however, concerns were raised about bicycles being left parked on sidewalks and other inappropriate locations.
2.) After a presentation by Katie Holmes, the Race Coordinator for the Rock “n” Roll Marathon & Half Marathon; the Board/Charter Committee unanimously voted to write of letter of support for the 2018 event. Several attendees pointed out that it was one of the better managed special events in Balboa Park & Uptown.
3.) Don Liddell, the chair of the Balboa Park Committee’s West Mesa Subcommittee, provided an update on measures being taken to control excess special event noise. Liddell reported that event coordinators were now voluntarily working with park staff to lessen noise impacts on adjacent neighborhoods. At the recent St. Patrick’s Day festival, the events organizers placed the loudspeakers facing east, and moved them further into the park. Local neighbors said these actions were very effective in reducing noise levels.
4.) Jennifer Pesqueira, of El indio Restaurant, informed the Board/Charter Committee that Five Points businesses were supporting placement of a stop sign on India Street, at the intersection with Chalmers Street, to slow down traffic as it entered the Five Points business district. City traffic engineering was supportive of the stop sign; since Chalmers Street was north of where airport traffic took an off-ramp off India Street onto the I-5 freeway.
Bankers Hill’s hidden treasure
by Leo Wilson
Past and present of Spruce Street Bridge
The Spruce Street Suspension Bridge is one of Bankers Hill’s historic treasures. Relatively unknown until recently, it is located a block west of First Avenue on Spruce Street. Often visitors discover the landmark while walking through western Bankers Hill and are surprised to come upon such a unique, old bridge.
The bridge was built in 1912. It is an impressive 375 feet in length, and at its center about 70 feet above the canyon floor. It crosses the Kate Sessions Canyon — named after the famous San Diego horticulturist — which is also referred to as Arroyo Canyon. The canyon is full of eucalyptus trees, many over 100 feet high. It is widely believed that Kate Sessions planted many of these stately trees.
Chris von Huene, the co-administrator of the Metro San Diego CDC, walks on the Spruce Spring Bridge in January 2018 (Photo by Leo Wilson)
The bridge also has a view of San Diego Harbor. Edward Capps, the engineer who designed the bridge, was also responsible for the design of a major upgrade of San Diego’s harbor in preparation for the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Capps had been appointed San Diego’s city engineer in 1909, and later assumed the title of the city’s port engineer. As if this was not enough, Capps also was elected mayor of San Diego twice — serving from 1889-1901, and again from 1915-1917.
The purpose for building the bridge was to provide convenient access for those living west of the bridge to street cars that ran along what are now Fourth and Fifth avenues, which are located on the east side of the bridge. Some of the most architecturally distinct homes in San Diego are located on the west side of the bridge and are definitely worth seeing.
Being a suspension bridge, the Spruce Street Bridge can sway in the wind or when you walk across it. Often people jump about on the bridge to make it sway. This does not mean the bridge is in any way unsafe. It is anchored into the ground by massive concrete piers at each end of the bridge, which in some sections are over 20 feet high.
Although partially shrouded in vegetation, the concrete piers are visible at both ends of the bridge. The steel suspension cables that span the bridge have the ability to support a load of 164 tons, which would be the weight of over 2,000 people. The bridge is also frequently inspected; in 2007, it was briefly closed for a retrofit.
Despite its structural integrity, crossing a bridge that is swaying — especially when you are seven stories above the ground — might still be unsettling to some visitors. Many years ago, I used to regularly ride my bicycle across the bridge in the morning; now just walking across the bridge creates an uneasy feeling.
Unfortunately, the increased popularity of the bridge is causing a negative impact upon the adjacent neighborhood. Late at night, loud and often inebriated individuals frolic on the bridge.
About 14 years ago, at the request of local neighbors and with the support of Uptown Planners, a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was established for the bridge.
Despite the curfew, increasing late-night activity is taking place on the bridge, often instigated through social media. This activity has been accompanied by illicit behavior, graffiti and littering. Additionally, alcohol containers and drug paraphernalia are now often found at the bridge.
In an attempt to address these problems, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) has increased its patrol of the bridge, and the city is now considering additional action.
— Leo Wilson is administrator for Metro San Diego CDC and is a Bankers Hill resident.
Published in the Uptown News on March 23, 2018