Come see Sonny Rollins’ favorite bridge

Eye on Real Estate: Music lovers are campaigning to get the Williamsburg Bridge renamed for jazz great

January 3, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Music lovers are campaigning to get the Williamsburg Bridge renamed for jazz great Sonny Rollins, seen here during a 2011 performance in Copenhagen. Photo by Helle Arensbak/Polfoto/AP
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Know your bridges, Brooklynites. The tourists do.

Our iconic spans are excellent spots for scenic strolls in every season of the year.

Didn’t your New Year’s resolutions include a resolve to get more exercise? A brisk walk over the East River is far more entertaining than a long slog on a treadmill. Bundle up in a down coat and heavy gloves, and you won’t even notice it’s winter.

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News flash: The best place to take in the austere beauty of the Williamsburg Bridge is not in Williamsburg.

It’s at the end of Delancey Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

There you will find East River Park, a green oasis along FDR Drive.

The Williamsburg Bridge is planted firmly in the riverbed a few feet from the park’s shoreline.

You can sit on a bench alongside the park’s promenade and gaze upon the bridge as it stretches over the river to Williamsburg.

On the far shore, you’ll see the landmarked Domino Sugar Refinery and 325 Kent Ave., Two Trees Management’s new apartment building.

When you stroll around East River Park, you’ll notice charming sculptures of harbor seals. In the summer, the seal sculptures serve as sprinklers for kids to play in.

This time of year, the sprinklers are turned off and the seals look a little lonely. If you decide to take a photo of them, the Williamsburg Bridge stands tall in the background.        

Because of East River Park’s great views of the Williamsburg Bridge, you should go to the park first and then start your bridge walk.

To get to the park, take the J train from Brooklyn — it travels over the bridge.  

The Manhattan entrance to the bridge’s pedestrian and bike paths is located at the intersection of Delancey and Clinton streets a few blocks from the park.


Legislation to rename bridge for jazz tenor saxophonist  

Before we step onto the span, we want to say Three Cheers for the campaign to get it renamed the Sonny Rollins Williamsburg Bridge in honor of jazz tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

If you wish to support the bridge renaming, there’s a petition on Change.org you can sign.

Rollins, who is 87 years old, is widely considered the greatest jazz improviser who ever lived. He was a musical prodigy who started recording while in his teens.  

From the summer of 1959 through the fall of 1961, while living on the Lower East Side, Rollins went up onto the Williamsburg Bridge nearly every day to practice his saxophone.

He needed a place to play where he wouldn’t disturb his pregnant neighbor, New Yorker writer Amanda Petrusich notes in a 2017 story about the campaign to get the bridge renamed.

The initiative is headed by Lower East Side jazz fan Jeff Caltabiano, who founded the Sonny Rollins Bridge Project.

Last fall, city Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights and more) introduced a bill to rename the bridge.

As our Brooklyn Eagle colleague Scott Enman recently reported, Caltabiano hopes the legislation will come before the City Council this January.

Rollins has Brooklyn roots — he lived in Clinton Hill for roughly a decade, Enman’s story notes.


Design inspiration from the Eiffel Tower

So. Let’s take that walk across the bridge.

As you stroll along its Manhattan approach, you get glimpses of the Lower East Side’s old-fashioned tenements and New York City Housing Authority projects.

When you reach the East River’s shoreline, you can see the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge off in the distance.

On the Williamsburg Bridge’s main span, blue-painted steel beams form elaborate geometric patterns over the pedestrian path.

Down below, on the Williamsburg shoreline, there’s an eye-catching development that Spitzer Enterprises is building.

When you get to the Brooklyn side of the pedestrian path, you glimpse the Gretsch, a century-old musical-instrument factory that was converted into a condo property.

When the Williamsburg Bridge opened in December 1903, its 1,600-foot main span made it the longest suspension bridge in the world. It beat the dazzling Brooklyn Bridge by 4.5 feet.

The Williamsburg Bridge’s design was innovative because its towers were made solely of steel. Back then, masonry towers were the norm for big suspension bridges.

The chief engineer during much of the construction process was Leffert Buck.

A story posted on the informative website Untapped Cities says Buck’s design inspiration for the Williamsburg Bridge may have been the Eiffel Tower. He had worked with the Eiffel Tower’s designer, Alexandre Gustave Eiffel.


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