Como Footbridge

Fotbridge1 by Erik Hare

Away from the crowds of kids at the zoo, just beyond the lovers strolling around the lake, it stands overgrown with weeds and trees.  You have to want to find it, just below the mysterious stand of Catalpa trees that may be a memorial to the man who made it happen.  It is waiting for someone to care for it in a way that it used to be cared for, the grand entrance that once brought everyone into Como Park.

The pedestrian footbridge, also known as Bridge 5853, doesn’t serve any purpose any longer.  In 1904 people arrive in Como by streetcar, crossing the tracks from the “Waiting Room” known as the Streetcar Station over this simple arch.  From here, the whole park was theirs for the day, whether they came to see the Conservatory or have a picnic on Cozy Island.  Though the bridge was placed on the National Historical register, the lack of purpose has allowed it to go fallow and gradually fall apart.

Saint Paul is a city that loves its history, but sometimes we don’t know what to do with it.  The Streetcar Station itself has become a small classroom, open Sundays from Noon to 4:00, with interpretive and historic maps showing people what Como Park was built to be.  It all happened gradually, moving from a rustic open space to a recreational facility with golf, swimming, tennis, and nearly anything else you can name.  People started to arrive by car more than the streetcar, and eventually the trolleys stopped altogether.  There was no need for a single grand entrance, and there was no need for the footbridge.

Fotbridge2 Lacking the funds or the interest to do anything with this overgrown grand entrance, it simply stands there, waiting a purpose.  When it was put on the Historic Register it was noted that it was one of the first reinforced concrete bridges of its type.  It’s a special structure for a lot of reasons, not just the many memories that started by crossing it.  Today, it has nothing to do, and the area underneath it is fenced off to prevent people from being hit by falling concrete.

What will happen to this bridge?  If we do nothing, it will eventually fall down.  So far, we’ve done nothing to it for over 50 years.  Though you have to make a special trip to the corner of Lexington and Horton just to see it, it’s worth seeing.  This is where Como Park became the great space that helps to make Saint Paul a great city to live and play.    It would be better if we found a way to restore it, but for now we have to be content with the overgrown sense of mystery that surrounds it.  It’s worth the excursion, just as the trip to Como was over this bridge 100 years ago.

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8 Replies to “Como Footbridge”

  1. What a shame! I’m surprised some area history buffs don’t form a committee to raise funds and brainstorm ideas of what this bridge can be used for.

  2. Leanne: This is a very forgotten part of our city. I’m sure if people were aware of it, something would be done. The neglect we see in falling concrete has to come from that. I’m hoping to make people aware of it by writing a piece on it. Let’s see if stpaulrealestateblog can make a difference!

  3. Como Park has a lot of stuff like this. Like the Lily Pond and the Joyce Kilmer Fireplace. While a lot of great stuff in Como has been restored, there’s other stuff that still gets neglected. This would be one of them.

    I think the biggest problem is there’s not much you can do with the bridge. Even if it was restored there’s a path that runs parallel to it–you’d be restoring a bridge for the sake of a bridge. I love my local history, but that’s a hard cause to get support for.

    I think making a case for restoring it would require turning into something more than a bridge (since there’s no need for a bridge). It’d be cool to see someone turn it into an art project.

  4. Reinforced concrete is the next big thing in the history of architecture…but for most people it looks all too modern for conservation. We will learn too late.

  5. Thats so true. At least though it has not been torn down yet. You need to save as much of your history as is possible. Thats what makes our villages, districts, towns and cities desirable places to live.

  6. Thanks for your support for this delightful piece of sculpture. Kevin, you are right that it needs a new purpose before anyone will get excited about it, and whatever purpose it has will probably be tied to the old Streetcar Station next to it. That is also grossly under-used, though it was nicely preserved and is now used as an interpretive center and District Council office. It’s only open for 4 hours a week, however!

    Given that we have a Mayor who likes ice rinks, I always imagine this bridge with a pond underneath it that freezes into an open-air rink in the winter. The Station would be the warming house. Does it get much more romantic than this? The summer use is far less obvious, since we already have a lot of duck ponds around Como. But I do agree we need to find a use and/or a backdrop that makes use of it.

    I tried to search for plans for this structure, but I didn’t find any. No one has a website with even a bright idea. We have to keep working on it before it really falls down.

  7. Erik, the open-air rink sounds nice for a winter purpose. Here’s an idea for summer use: how about putting really nice landscaping around the pond so that couples getting married may want to hold the ceremony in a beautiful pond-side gazebo and then take photos around the gardens and make the Streetcar Station available for wedding receptions (monetize it). I’ve never been there, but am assuming this could work.

  8. Thanks for your support on this jewel of history. I believe what makes Como Park uniquely different from other parks in the Twin Cities is its historic pieces such as the Lily Pond and this footbridge. Are there any estimates as to the cost of refurbishing the bridge? Or for the time being at least maintaining it in its current state of “ruin”. This is sometimes done in Europe to maintain structures until a full restoration can be funded. As for ideas for marketing funds for renovation, renting the streetcar station for events such as corporate picnics (my company had ours there). Was there ever talk with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum about laying a section of track down for a streetcar to run on such as at Harriet Lake and Excelsior? The track could run between the zoo, Como Zoo, station, and/or pavilion and could surely generate funds once constructed, isn’t a street bus going to be put in service around the park next summer anyway?

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