50 Years of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

I’m originally from Stapleton in Staten Island and I drove the first car, the first paying toll over the Verrazano Bridge 50 years ago. I’m Ron Sacoff, I was born and raised in Staten Island I’m from Silver Lake and I was a passenger in that first car and I was in the backseat. I do remember driving over the bridge as a young kid with my parents in the car. And I actually have one vivid memory when we were on the Belt Parkway ramp. And we were driving on the Belt Parkway ramp eastbound and I vividly remember my mother saying; “see that bridge over there? People from all over the world come and look at this bridge.” Quite often on the weekends my parents would take my brothers and my sister and I down to Shore Road in Brooklyn and we would see the progress of the construction up close. The Verrazano-Narrows bridge was constructed 50 years ago. The construction took about five years but the planning for the bridge took about 75 years. Around the turn of the 19th century the five counties of New York were joining together to become New York City. So, just as the physical city was coming together, so people wanted to unite the city with bridges, with tunnels. In 1929 the Regional Plan Association put forth its first strategic plan for the city. And one of the elements of the plan was build a connection between Brooklyn and Staten Island and they advocated a bridge. The connection would be the southern connection in a very well-planned to defined arterial system around New York City. The George Washington Bridge in the north would be part of another arterial system, and the Verrazano would be the southern and final link that would allow people from Staten Island, New Jersey and South to cross the Verrazano into Brooklyn and never have to go through Manhattan. It was going to be a major enhancement for automobile traffic. Somehow in the 1940s, the mid to late
1940s, Robert Moses, as head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, and the United States Army agreed that the bridge could be built would pose no danger to shipping and the last few obstacles were overcome. They stuck the first shovels into the ground in 1959. and they planned that the construction would actually take five years and it did. Five year period I watched as as barges brought in chunks of Steel. Hundreds of men wearing hard hats would climb, sometimes foot by foot climbing like spiders, on this on this big cobweb: which is like the netting that you see under under bridges as structures are being built across the water. All of this is built across two and a half miles of water, the Narrows on the very lower part of the Hudson River. II’s a very risky business being an iron worker. You’re caring tools, there are wrenches your body is supported by straps with tools, and they have to use riveting guns and they use bolts and they sometimes, their hands, take swinging parts of steel that are supported by cranes, they have to move the steel in place and then rivet in place. So I was used to the open steel and high-rises. And what happened is, as we got to the catwalk area, I’d say about one half of the men going down the catwalk decided that that wasn’t for them and turned around and went back on the ladders and down to the wait for the next elevator and we never seen them again. The bridge engineer was a man named Othmar Ammann. And so he was the preeminent bridge builder of the 20th century. He built the George Washington, the Triborough, the Bronx White Stone, the Throgs Neck and the Verrazano. And the Verrazano was really the culmination of his career. He was in his 80s by the time he built the Verrazano. The Verrazano is minimalist. It’s so lightly built and he himself, Othmar Ammann said, “I want it to make as light as impression as possible because this is the entrance to a great harbor and I don’t want to take away the appearance of the harbor that exists now.” The bridge opened on November 21st 1964 and all kinds of people wanted to participate. People wrote poems that they wanted to have recited at the opening. People wrote music. It was attended by the Governor, by the Mayor of the City of New York, and lots of other dignitaries. A sanitation band played and at 3 o’clock that day the bridge opened to the general public. I met my my wife in high school and we would often walk along the promenade on Shore Road underneath the bridge. And we wound up getting married shortly after that. So my wedding pictures were all taken with the bridge as a backdrop. So it became part of my life again you know having those photos taken, and just, just something that I could never believe that I finally got a job here and it became my my permanent career. It was a job that I had needed and after being an out-of-work a while, matter of fact if I didn’t get hired at that time we were ready to call off our wedding. My wife and I were engaged to be married. September 28 1963 and this was April now, we’re gonna have to cancel the wedding if I didn’t get this job. So everything went well. And I was very privileged and lucky to have seen this going up. And more so privileged to be a kind of chronicler of the bridge. and be able to put in the pages of this book, called The Bridge, the names and histories of those people who, in their way, sometimes small ways, and sometimes large ways, contributed. There is no normal day at the bridges, especially the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. At any given moment anything can happen on this bridge and very rarely is it a quiet day. I’m always watching out for disabled vehicles on the bridge, accidents on the bridge something can always happen at any given time. My main goal is to expedite the flow of traffic on this bridge. My main goal is to keep our customers safe. And my main goal is to keep our employees safe. The bridge really brought two communities together. It actually opened up the whole interstate highway system from New York to New Jersey, and beyond the points of New Jersey. It just is a very vital link in the whole interstate highway transportation system.

4 thoughts on “50 Years of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

  1. It's a shame that Robert Moses deliberately excluded train tracks from the bridge. Still, it's quite an engineering feat.

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