The South Lion Footbridge, circa 1908
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 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.
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.]