It’s not just a product of the most dismal age in bridge design (it opened in 1968), but it was even on the “B” list of bridges from that era; unlike the late 35W River Bridge – which opened the year before, but had the good fortune to connect urban Minnesota’s crown jewel, Downtown Minneapolis, with the north metro – the Lafayette connects a grimy, tumbledown stretch of the East Side with a utilitarian area of the West Side Flats – a canyon of state offices with Holman Field and the older downmarket ‘burbs to the southeast.
It looks like it could be found over any barge canal or toxic waste dump in North Jersey. It shudders. It clogs tight during rush hour. A utilitarian plate-girder span downstream from the golden age art-deco splendor of the Robert Street span and the reformist high-concept gloss of the Wabasha, the Lafayette is like a truck driver crashing an English department cocktail party.
And yet, there’s one part of the Lafayette Bridge that would be irreplaceable if they blew it up tomorrow. Right behind the late, lamented vista of downtown Minneapolis from the 35W Bridge, and the postcard view of downtown from the High Bridge, the view of Saint Paul at night from the Lafayette Bridge is one of the metro’s most striking scenes.
Viewing downtown Saint Paul from the High Bridge is like looking at a Summit Avenue mansion from…Summit Avenue; it’s the mansion’s best face, put forward for public consumption.
The same view from the Lafayette Bridge is like looking at the same mansion from the alleyway behind it. You are keenly aware of the working end of Saint Paul – railroad bridges, docks, bargeyards – as well as the scrum of turn-of-the-20th-century warehouses, cuts into the bluff, and bare infrastructure that pays (or paid) the rent for that “best face”.
The view is not online. I may have to fix that.