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Lake Park Lion Bridges


The South Lion Footbridge, circa 1908

In the sothern part of Lake Park, twin footbridges (twin feetbridge?) were built to cross the ravines that separated the northern and southern portions of the park. The peninsula of land was owned by the U.S. Lighthouse Service, location of the North Point Lighthouse, seen in the upper left of the photograph. Between the bridges is a small courtyard that was bounded by pedestals that held an iron chain. Just above the railing in the photo, you can make out six of the pedestals.

Note the ornate light standards on both bridges. You can just make out the portal of the North Lion Bridge on the right side of the photo. The bridges were designed by Oscar Sanne and built in 1896-1897.

The photo was taken by Sumner W. Matteson. It is from the collection of the Milwaukee Public Museum and used with permission.

Photo taken by Sumner W. Matteson

BH Photo #116026

The Significance of Lake Park and the Lake Park Bridges 

Written by J.R. Manning

The west shore of Lake Michigan features a tall bluff, varying in height but as high as 70 meters, that overlooks the lake. In the mid 1800's, the civic leaders of Milwaukee recognized the importance of preserving public space in the form of parks and began to buy up land throughout the area. One of the spots was the area that is now known as Lake Park. The significance of this site is nothing new, burial mounds of Native Americans were found here.

In 1854, the U.S. Lighthouse service built the North Point Lighthouse on a two acre plat that divided the planned park area. The lighthouse was moved back 100 feet because of bluff erosion, a problem that continues to this day. The city and the federal government came to an agreement in 1893 that allowed the park to be developed as planned, and the lighthouse continued in operation until it was decommissioned in 1994. The lighthouse is now a part of the park and is being restored.

The Milwaukee Park Commission contracted with Frederick Law Olmsted, the noted landscape architect, to design Lake Park. (Ohlmstead is remembered for designing New York's Central Park, the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the grounds of the Vanderbilt's Biltmore Mansion.)

The Lion Bridges, that span the ravines that frame the lighthouse, were completed in 1897. The footbridge was built in 1905 and the Grand Staircase in 1908.

You can learn more about this wonderful park and the structures of it at the website of the Lake Park Friends.

Excerpts From the Historic Bridges Project Report

Written by Edwin Cordes, Summer 1987

The Lion Bridges are two of five decorative bridges located in Lake Park on Milwaukee's northeast side. All but one were designed between 1893 and 1898 by the local Milwaukee engineer, Oscar Sanne. The bridges span the two southernmost ravines in the park and surround the 1854 government lighthouse. Lake Park was one of Milwaukee's earliest public parks and was designed by the prominent Boston landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.

Each of the twin bridges measures 164 feet, including approaches. The steel arches span ravines 88 feet wide. A grassy knoll, approximately 95 feet wide, separates the two structures. A government lighthouse, along with the lightkeeper's residence, is locaated just west of the bridges on the knoll. A large decorative, semicircular plateau extends east of the bridges on the knoll and is surround by 18 large stone posts and heavy ornamental chain. While providing an excellent observation point above the lake front, and a possible site for a fountain, the posts and chains were also used to prevent an uncontrolled carriage of automobile from falling into the ravine.

The bridge spans were composed of six large steel arches. The two hinged arches wee designed to carry live loads of 100 pounds pwe square foot. Each arch was connected with 16 decorative cross struts to the other five arches in the span. Gusset plates and cross struts placed at each panel point were substituted for lateral or sway rods. The two outermost arches on each span were heavily decorated with bolted cast metal plates. These decorative elements were removed in 1966 when the bridges were narrowed to allow only pedestrian traffic.

Oscar Sanne, the bridges' designer, was known primarily for his work as an engineer. He specialized in the design of iron and steel bridges, drawspans, viaducts and buildings. Sanne graduated from the Karlrische Polytechnic University of Germany, with a degree in engineering. Examples of his work include large steel spans in Oshkosh, DePere and LaCrosse, Wisconsin, as well as the Goldsmith Building in Milwaukee. Mr. Sanne was also involved in the design of the structural system for the Machinery Mall at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. [Editor's note: Frederick Law Olmsted was the designer of the fair.]


Open-spandrel arch bridge over Ravines on Pedestrian Walkway in Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin
Open to pedestrians
Built in 1897; Closed to traffic and narrowed in 1964
Open-spandrel arch
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993
Approximate latitude, longitude
+43.06420, -87.87225   (decimal degrees)
43°03'51" N, 87°52'20" W   (degrees°minutes'seconds")
Approximate UTM coordinates
16/428978/4768313 (zone/easting/northing)
Quadrangle map:
Milwaukee OE E
Inventory number
BH 36758 (Bridgehunter.com ID)

Update Log 

  • March 30, 2013: New photo from J.R. Manning
  • April 23, 2010: New photos from J.R. Manning
  • April 18, 2009: New photo from J.R. Manning
  • August 6, 2008: Essay added by J.R. Manning
  • July 2, 2008: Updated by J.R. Manning
  • June 27, 2008: Essay added by J.R. Manning


  • J.R. Manning - thekitchenguy [at] sbcglobal [dot] net
  • Lake Park Friends - Lake Park Friends' description of these bridges.
  • HAER WI-19 - Lake Park Lions Bridge, At Lighthouse in Lake Park, Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, WI


Lake Park Lion Bridges
Posted April 23, 2010, by J.R. Manning (thekitchenguy [at] sbcglobal [dot] net)

The rebuild of the north bridge is complete.

Lake Park Lion Bridges
Posted April 18, 2009, by J.R. Manning (thekitchenguy [at] sbcglobal [dot] net)


Lake Park Lion Bridges
Posted April 18, 2009, by Anthony Dillon (spansaver [at] hotmail [dot] com)

WHAT!....you mean those concrete arch bridges in Fort Wayne aren't really PINK?

And here I thought that you had used some super special effects in the pictures of the Wells Street Bridge.

Lake Park Lion Bridges
Posted April 18, 2009, by Wayne Kizziar (wayne1701 [at] cableone [dot] net)

Something is wrong with your new camera J.R. The lighthouse looks white, maybe the pink balance is out of whack.

Lake Park Lion Bridges
Posted April 18, 2009, by J.R. Manning (thekitchenguy [at] sbcglobal [dot] net)

The north bridge is under major restoration! I visited the site on April 17, 2009 and took these photos of the work in progress.

In the second photo, you can see that the trees and underbrush that surrounded the bridge have all been cut away; the edges of the ravine are now bare. The deck has been removed and the ironwork is being restored.

Note, in the third photo, that replacement cross members are faithful reproductions of the originals. The only difference appears to be that the replacement ironwork is bolted into place where the originals were riveted.

The fourth photo is of the lighthouse. I just wanted to prove to a few of you jokers that it's white and not pink - my old camera had a little problem with white balance. ^__^