Little more than a decade ago, the only stone arch bridge that spans the only waterfall along the nation’s greatest river lay dark and unused at the foot of St. Anthony Falls. The bridge was renovated in 1994 — its surface refinished and lit to create one of Downtown’s most recognizable icons.
On Monday, Oct. 17, the belly of the 122-year-old bridge will be lit as well, when Mayor R.T. Rybak flips the switch at 7:15 p.m.
More than 100 contributors donated $545,000 to Friends of the Minneapolis Riverfront (FMR), the organization that made the bridge lighting possible. It wasn’t an easy process — the 18-month venture required the approval of seven agencies with jurisdiction over the bridge, said Tom Meyer, principal at Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle (MS&R), the Downtown architectural firm that designed the lighting for free. MS&R also designed the nearby Mill City Museum, 704 S. 2nd St.
The donations will pay for lighting 12 of the bridge’s 23 arches for five years. Most of the arches over water will be lit, according to Jackie Peacha, MS&R public relations manager. Unlit arches are on the bridge’s ends; for example, the archeological site Mill Ruins Park prohibited lights on the south end. The group is trying to raise an additional $200,000 to light five more arches for the new Guthrie Theater’s opening next spring. Funding beyond five years is uncertain.
The bridge is a National Engineering Landmark, according to an MS&R press release. For that reason, government and preservation agencies were concerned about how the lights would be installed. Early designs even called for drilling into the limestone. The final design required no drilling, made no new openings in the bridge and leaves no sign of the conduit that supplies power, said Meyer.
Instead, waterproof wiring is hidden in the drainage channel that runs between the bike lines in the middle of the bridge. The conduit connects to two light fixtures through an existing opening beneath the center of each arch, through which water drains from the channel.
Two fixtures shine in different directions to light both the arch’s underbelly and the water’s surface below.
Monday night’s ceremony begins at 6 p.m. with music by Desiradi, with Vocalist Sophia Shorai, followed by Savage Aural Hotbed at 6:45. Mayor Rybak and FMR heads Jay Cowles and Charlie Zelle will speak briefly before the lights go on.