The Third Avenue Bridge is a landmark in the city of Minneapolis. It was originally called the St. Anthony Falls Bridge because its beautiful open-spandrel arches stretch across the Mississippi and right over the upper portion of St. Anthony Falls. That name fell out of favor when more and more people began calling it the Third Avenue Bridge, and the St. Anthony Falls name has since been applied to the new 35W bridge.
The Third Avenue Bridge was built between 1914 and 1918 because the growing city needed another river crossing, and heavier cars and trucks required a more substantial bridge. Its five concrete arches are an example of the patented Melan System, which uses metal I-beams curved to the form of an arch and embedded in concrete.
The bridge curves across the river to connect Third Avenue on the downtown side with Central Avenue on the north side. Its shallow s-curve was cleverly designed by engineer Frederick Cappelen to avoid fractures in the limestone beneath that support the bridge piers. While certainly practical, the elegant curve also adds to the bridge’s aesthetic appeal—and its image, at the time, as a gateway to downtown Minneapolis.
The Classical Revival detailing on the arches is complemented by an ornamental metal and concrete railing that was added to the bridge in 1939, but after that, this beautiful bridge was neglected. By the 1970s, it had deteriorated badly, and city officials did not know if it could be saved.
The goal was to save the bridge since it was such a magnificent structure unless it was cost prohibitive. As it turned out, they decided to replace everything from the arches up, including the spandrels, deck, and guardrails. Once construction was underway, the bridge proved to be in even worse condition that expected. At that point, it is likely that it would have been cheaper to abandon the project and tear the bridge down. Luckily, the city decided to continue with the project and refurbish this historic structure. The rebuilt Third Avenue Bridge opened in late 1980.
Open-Spandrel Concrete Arch
Frederick W. Cappelen
Four Lanes of Third Avenue South
The Third Avenue Bridge is the longest s-curve concrete arch bridge in the world.