Mystery Bridge 34: A Double-Leaf in California?

Photo courtesy of Kevin Miller

To start off this article, let’s begin by asking this question: do you know of bridges in the US like this one in the picture: a double-leaf bascule bridge that was built before or at the turn of the century (basically, up to 1900)? If so, where was it located, who built it, and when was it built?  While many double-leaf bascule bridges can be found in Europe with most of them being 100 years old and located in the Netherlands, Belgium and northern Germany, it is surprising to see that there were some bridges like this one that existed before the days of Ford and his Model T.

Kevin Miller brought this photo to the author’s attention and needs your help. A collection of vintage photos came to the Malibu Times (located in California outside Los Angeles) which included this bridge. Judging by the palm trees in the background, it appeared that this structure existed somewhere in southern California, northern Mexico or even Florida, in other words, the regions where one can most likely find palm trees. In addition to that, it may have been located in a coastal community that once thrived in fishing and/or shipping and used to have a canal (or even a series of canals) that went through the community. Yet as the double-leaf is one of the key landmarks that is typically Dutch, it would mean that the coastal community was predominately Dutch, which would contradict the trend that was set forth in the history of Dutch immigration in the US. Up until 1945, the majority of Dutch settlements were located in the Midwest and northeastern parts of the USA, including Pella, Iowa, which has a double-leaf bridge and Dutch houses of its own. After World War II, the number of Dutch immigrants to California and the coastal areas reaching as far as Alaska skyrocketed resulting in over 200,000 of them living in tight quarters either within a bigger city or a small community. In Los Angeles alone, over 100,000 people with Dutch and Indo-dutch background reside there. Yet because of trade with Indonesia prior to 1930, it is likely that a handful of Dutch communities may have been established but most likely in an area stretching from Santa Ynez down to the Mexican state of Baja California. Yet with its connections with trading partners in the Caribbean at the same time, combined with previous settlements in the New England states, an average of 5-10% of Dutchmen also have resided in Florida, which means that some communities may have been established at the same time as in California. This means that the double-leaf bridge in this picture may have belonged to a Dutch community.

Another clue is the lettering on the left building in the background. If looking more closely, one can see some Spanish and Dutch names resembling the likes of  Isdero Gertrain, although it does appear fuzzy. If there were any Spanish connections, then it is most likely that the double-leaf was located in a Dutch community either in southern California or northern Baja California in Mexico. But some closer examinations may be needed to confirm this.

As this picture may have been taken at the same time as those in the collection- meaning most likely in the 19th century and definitely before the creation of the Malibu Times in 1946, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered about this double-leaf, namely:

1. Where was this bridge located? Was it in a Dutch community or one that used to be predominately Dutch?

2. When did this bridge exist- and especially, when was this photo taken?

3. Given the design of the bridge’s towers, which appears to be ornamental made of iron, similar to a bridge in northern Germany, who designed the bridge? 

The bridge was a pedestrian bridge that was approximately 80-110 feet total in length with a width clearance of about 40-50 feet allowing small ships to pass. Given the close proximity of the buildings, the canal must have been 40 feet wide at the most.

Any information would be much appreciated. Put them in the comment section as well as in the Chronicles’ facebook, twitter and LinkedIn pages. It will also be posted in the Malibu Times facebook page in case you wish to post some facts there.  You can also contact Kevin Miller at Kevin.Miller3@pepperdine.edu.

Also useful is to know of other double leaf bridges in the US that existed prior to 1900. If you know of some, you are free to comment here in the Comment page or contact the Chronicles via e-mail at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.

Curious about this bridge and to know about the double leaves in the US? The Chronicles will keep you posted on this unique mystery bridge.

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2 Responses to Mystery Bridge 34: A Double-Leaf in California?

  1. Here is some additional information from Kevin Miller via e-mail correspondance:

    Although we don’t have any info on the provenance of the photo (we received it from the Malibu Times in a folder simply marked “Historical Photographs”), it did come along with three other prints that appear to be related (most likely printed at the same time, possibly of the same geographic area). You can see these in our digital collections—they’re currently the four most recent additions, to the righthand side of the screen. These prints are small, by the way, about 3.75″ by 3.75″, and printed on some kind of paper stock. http://pepperdine.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15730coll8

    I’m leaning toward a location outside of California. An expert at the Maritime Museum in San Diego ruled out the river boat (in one of the other photos) as being in California. Also, many of the people in this photo and the river boat photo appear to be African-American or Afro-Latino; I’m not sure this fits the demographics of southern California in the late 19th century.

    The bridge, as you mention, appears similar to many Dutch bridges, and reminds me a lot of the Kota Intan drawbridge in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Dutch colonial connection leads me to wonder whether our bridge might be in Surinam or the Dutch Caribbean. How such photos would end up in the hands of the Malibu Times is beyond me.

  2. And the link to the Kota Intan Bridge in Jakarta (I must say, I fancy this bridge quite a bit): http://hpijakarta.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/jembatan-kota-intan.jpg?w=500

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