City Hall

At the Lighting of the Calatrava Bridge, That "Elegant Sculpture" and "Connection in Time"

In the end, the timing was perfect: The rain, scarce for far too long, had moved off but not before topping off the Trinity River just enough so that it resembled an actual river -- roaring, even, almost mighty. The clouds remained, and the glare from an ever-illuminated downtown gave the sky a subtle blue-gray glow through which shone the spotlights of TV-news helicopters awaiting The Big Moment. And it was chilly but not too cold, and so the people came out, lining the Continental Avenue Bridge with their cameras at the ready, waiting ... waiting.

But before that, before Mayor Mike Rawlings threw the switch that slowly illuminated the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, there were speeches to be made. The mayor said, "We already know what a sight this bridge is during the day," but now it will become "an elegant sculpture" at night that links downtown to the new-and-improved West Dallas. Vonciel Jones Hill -- council member, judge, pastor -- spoke of a bridge as "a connection in time and space," then launched into a reading of Will Allen Dromgoole's "The Bridge Builder," a favorite at such occasions, this short poem about finding your way across the "chasm, vast, and deep, and wide." Lynn McBee, chair of the Trinity Trust's opening weekend party, spoke of fireworks forthcoming and a Lyle Lovett performance during the $200-a-ticket kick-off.

And then came the countdown, after which Mayor Rawlings threw the switch ... and then we waited, and waited a little longer, for the lights to warm up.

Mary Suhm, the city manager, found a place on the Continental bridge to take a few of her own photos before heading off to give a speech in Northwest Dallas later in the evening. Council members and West Dallas residents posed for their own photos; the bridge at night does make a great prop. And city officials spoke of having "faith" and being "optimistic" about the potential for development on both sides of the bridge, especially near the Continental Avenue pedestrian park and West Dallas Gateway, which will begin to take shape almost the moment the Calatrava opens the first weekend in March. Said one, "But if we don't do anything, there won't be anything. The risk will be worth the reward."

The bridge was fully illuminated by 6:15; it will be all white this time and just white, not blue or red or any other color. Santiago Calatrava, so the story goes, was deeply offended when city officials bathed the bridge in blue last February. Some 15 minutes after the ceremony, all the dignitaries were gone, leaving behind spectators and news trucks parked along Beckley and Continental, where traffic was slow and heavy. And for a very long time, people stood on one bridge and stared at the other.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky