When the Franklin Avenue Bridge opened in 1923, its span across the Mississippi was the largest arch of any bridge in the world. It is a sweeping example of steel-reinforced concrete at a point on the river that offers breathtaking views in both directions.
The bridge was conceived by one of the great names of the golden age of bridge building, Frederick William Cappelen, a renowned City Engineer who designed many monumental bridges from the early 20th Century. Unfortunately, Cappelen died of complications of an appendicitis before the bridge was finished, and the bridge was named the F. W. Cappelen Memorial Bridge in his honor.
Cappelen’s assistant engineer and successor, Kristoffer Olsen Oustad, oversaw completion of the project. The bridge was carefully constructed around an 1889 metal truss bridge so that traffic could continue to pass on the old bridge until the new bridge was complete. (The remains of the stone pilings from the 1889 bridge are still visible near the piers on the south side.)
When the F. W. Cappelen Memorial Bridge opened, it received high praise from engineers around the world. Despite this, during a substantial renovation in the 1970s, engineers made changes to the Minneapolis landmark that were a dramatic departure from the Classical Revival and Art Deco styles that were originally intended by the designers. The elegant balustrade was replaced by a utilitarian railing, its castle-like observation bays were reduced in size, and architectural detailing was removed.
Most significantly, engineers calculated that the bridge had been overbuilt in 1923 and required half as many vertical supports. They removed every other spandrel column, resulting in a design that is certainly airier, but to many, lacks the appeal of the original bridge.
Engineers have since realized that the removal of the spandrels resulted in decreased load capacity and have imposed weight restrictions on the bridge. In addition, due to wear and tear, the bridge is now considered structurally deficient.
Fortunately, reconstruction of the F. W. Cappelen Memorial Bridge is due to begin this spring, and in addition to structural repairs, the new plans will bring the look of this historical bridge (mostly) back to its former 1923 glory. The plans also include a protected walkway and bike lane on each side of the bridge.
Open-Spandrel Concrete Arch
Frederick William Cappelen
Four Lanes of Franklin Avenue
Franklin William Cappelen was a key figure in the creation of Minneapolis’ water distribution system from the 1890s to the 1900s. He designed the Prospect Park Water Tower and the Kenwood Park Water Tower.