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Astoria's Hell Gate Bridge Turns 100 This Week

By Jeanmarie Evelly | March 9, 2017 8:35am | Updated on March 10, 2017 2:49pm
 The Hell Gate Bridge, which stretches over the East River from Astoria to Wards Island, will celebrate its 100th year on Thursday, marking a century since officials celebrated its opening with a dedication ceremony in 1917.
Hell Gate Bridge at 100 Years
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Happy birthday, Hell Gate!

The Hell Gate Bridge, which stretches over the East River from Astoria to Wards Island, will celebrate its 100th year on Thursday, marking a century since officials celebrated its opening with a dedication ceremony in 1917.

At the time, newspaper headlines called it "the greatest of all bridges" — a reputation that still rings true for many who live near the span, locals say.

"People in Astoria ... they've sort of adopted the bridge as kind of their own," said Bob Singleton, head of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, which is planning a celebration for the bridge Thursday. "It really sort of defines our neighborhood."

Designed by engineer Gustav Lindenthal, the Hell Gate was built to carry both freight and passenger trains along the New York Connecting Railroad to link Queens and The Bronx, according to news reports at the time. It's operated by Amtrak today.

The historical society will celebrate the bridge's milestone with a lecture and a party on Thursday where Dave Frieder, a photographer and bridge historian, will discuss how the span was built and present a slideshow of photos.

The festivities will also include a birthday cake and champagne, according to Singleton, who said the event is free and open to all. 

On March 25, the group will host a "Hike the the Hell Gate," a photography-focused walking tour that will start at Socrates Sculpture Park and end at the bridge, during which participants are encouraged to take photos.

The bridge itself is also getting some extra TLC in honor of its birthday: Artists are painting two murals along its base in Astoria Park.

One mural will feature an image of the bridge itself and another includes the Statue of Liberty, according to Antonio Meloni, who helped plan the new works.

Meloni, who heads the nonprofit New York Anti-Crime Agency, has long been campaigning for upgrades for the bridge — including a push to get Amtrak to repaint the Hell Gate, saying its current paint job is faded and patchy.

He and other volunteers are planning another centennial celebration for the bridge which will take place Sept. 9 and include live music, a parade and other festivities in Astoria Park.

"The Hell Gate has become a prime representation of Astoria," Meloni said, explaining his affection for the structure. "It's going to outlast all of us."