A Decade of Love for the Calatrava Bridge

Ten years ago, probably in October or November, I wrote about the Calatrava Bridge, which I have loved from its conception. Sometime during that first year I made this collage based on an aerial photo.

Here is what I wrote ten years ago:

I woke this morning to the gentle sound of rain. Such a lovely moment, I managed to make it last another hour, slipping back under sleep, resurfacing to the sound again and again.  Then I got up, dressed in rain gear, got my umbrella out of storage and walked to the bridge.  I have been curious what it would look like with water running down its various impossible slopes and curves.  I wondered if the dirt streaks would be washed off.  I wondered about the pounded earth walkways, would there be soft spots?  I wondered if the glass panels would be slippery.  I wondered if finally I would be the only person on it.

How lucky is it that I, without doing a thing, ended up living half a mile from a monumental work of art?   I ride my bike over most days, sometimes twice.  In the few weeks since it has been opened, I have been on the bridge early and late all days of the week.  I have never been there alone; most times it is so crowded I have to be very careful on the bike not to run into people.  This morning (not yet 7:30) there were old couples holding hands, little boys racing (splashing) across with their dad, folks smiling admiring at our wet and shiny spectacle. In the Record Searchlight last week Doni Greenburg wrote   about how the bridge has become a community center. She is right and I hope that it continues to serve that important function. I am going to keep trying though, to be there all by myself someday.

The water was pouring down the face of the sundial and dripping off the edge of under-the-structure triangular opening. The stripes of dirt were still there, even more pronounced perhaps. I can’t image they will last through our December and January deluges.  Maybe, though.  It is a mystery to me how those streaks were formed so early – from at least the 2nd week – anyway.  I love the effect.  The stripes add subtle texture to big flat surfaces which really need breaking up.  I am pretty sure even Calatrava did not know that that would happen but if he did, he is a true genius.

The pounded earth walkways were mostly dry!  The asphalt trail was puddled but I guess the water soaks through the pounded earth. The glass was washed clean but was not slippery.  One morning I was there behind the zamboni Turtle Bay has to spray and squeegee the glass panels.  This morning they were getting a free bath. I have been having breakfast at the café about once a week and this morning I sat down and watched the white fin shape against the white sky for about thirty minutes while I drank a cup of coffee.

From the café, the sundial seems a cardboard cutout and the cables appear to form a curve even though I know better. The 14 cables will become one just by stepping into line as I walk across. From every angle this work of art transforms itself.  Artists have produced many spectacular photos of the bridge showing some of the optical illusions from different views. Speaking of photos, I wish I knew how much benefit the local photo shops have derived from this bridge.  People with long lenses and tripods are busy around and on the bridge every day.  And speaking of benefits, I wish I knew how much economic increase other local businesses have had due to this newly famous Redding landmark.

My favorite view is from the far northern edge of the arboretum.   From there the sundial is a thin graceful dart leaning at an impossible angle.  The lute strings from that spot seem absolutely crucial; it would surely crash to the ground without them.  When I ride on around the loop, the triangle becomes shorter and more vertical until back on the southern side, I would swear it is not leaning at all.

As I strolled back across I stopped to take the bridge’s pulse.  By putting your hand on one of the cables you can feel it move.  The longer cables move the most, sometimes they inexplicably throb at very different rates.   As I walk or ride across I love to look up at the cables.  They  move up and out of the way if you are right under them. The cables are for esthetics almost entirely; I watched them being strung and the bridge was holding its own alone, thank you very much.  But the cables are essential to how the bridge looks and feels and sounds. It seems a bit like a musical instrument to me.  And, as a matter of fact, if you put your ear against a cable (I watched the kids do this so I tried it too) and knock on it with your knuckles, you hear the bridge. And it sounds really neat.

Early on colder mornings this month the glass surface was covered with dew so that every footprint, dogprint, bikeprint showed and made a lovely image.  Another favorite view is from underneath looking up through the glass.  The blurred shadow of a person is anchored to a clear image of the Nike sole or the boot heel or the stroller tire.

I stopped in the middle to admire the river.  Redding has few things going for it as wonderful as the Sacramento River; it keeps us cool, slows us down, gives us space for trails and parks, provides us water to drink and to irrigate, lends us character, is really the reason our town is in this spot at all.  But except for a few fishermen, Reddingites have mostly ignored the river.  Homes have not been built on it often and even business areas like Park Marina treat it like a back alley.  This bridge, besides all the other good things that have come of it, is the perfect spot to show off our fabulous river.

Jan Grantham is an artist and retired teacher. She lives in Redding.

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Karen McGrath says:

    Jan – you’ve surely done a great job capturing the many facets of our bridge. Well observed and well written!

  2. Avatar Ginny says:

    Well written observations of and about the Sun Dial Bridge. Thank you.

  3. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    I hope you still feel that way about OUR bridge. You must or you wouldn’t have reprinted the article. I, too, have loved it from its inception. I used to drive over to the north parking lot of the auditorium and look at the massive pieces waiting to be installed and I would wonder what kind of genius could conceive such and thing and what kind of a genius could assemble such a puzzle.

    I was recently in Venice (Italy). Did you know that they had a Calatrava bridge also? I didn’t until we went under it on the vaparetto (the water bus). You think a Calatrava design caused some controversy in our town? ONE CAN ONLY IMAGINE!! And we all know how quietly those Italians are in expressing themselves. LOL! From what I read, there was quite a furor. But I thought the design was quietly beautiful and elegant and, for Calatava, rather restrained. . . but then, no one in Venice asked my opinion!!

  4. Avatar Kirsten Plate says:

    And there is a twin in Seville, Spain too! Actually, three more connections over the river there were planned, but money ran out. Where have we heard that before?
    Jan- your writing is so descriptive, I feel I am right there, even though, I have never made it in the rain.
    My house rule is: if you haven’t seen the bridge, you cannot stay here. Hopefully, I have enlightened a few.
    I too, have loved this piece of art from day one. And like you, I wish, there were a way of knowing the actual financial benefit from it. Cudos to Mancasola (I think?) who had the foresight, nerve, guts and whatever to get this to us here in Redding. THANK YOU!!

  5. Avatar Sally says:

    I so clearly remember the idea that our bridge would encourage the travelers who whiz by and only stop for gas in a town hotter than hell, to stop and discover our river with what would surely be known as a world famous bridge. Yeah – sure (not). HOWEVER, for the months following this extraordinary engineering feat, a 3 page article, with color, was printed in the L.A. Times, and each of the many times I was on the bridge, I met people from all over the U.S. and Canada. It has really grown to be the representative of our town’s soul and am so thankful for its existence!!!

  6. Avatar jean says:

    I also love that bridge- to stand on it and see the moon rise reflecting on the river is memorable– to go every day as it was being built– to sit at the cafe – having a coffee and sketching– and sharing walks with Jan– very special!!!

  7. Avatar david kerr says:

    I would rather have seen an investment in a fabulous arboretum and a very modest bridge. The bridge should have been covered, so it is not susceptible to ice and doesn’t burn dogs paws. The cover would have been an ideal location for solar panels. People would come from all over California to see those solar panels. With enough remote monitored security cameras, copper thieves be unlikely to steal cable or the inverters.

    Take a Google Earth tour of Redding. There is a large solar panel installation on the Walmart roof.

    Why doesn’t the financially troubled Record Searchlight have solar panels on its roof? E.W. Scripps could cut the pay of all employees by 10% and invest the money on solar panels.

  8. Avatar Gwen Knaebel says:

    Jan – Beautiful! Thanks

  9. Avatar Judy Salter says:

    It is a constant reminder to me of what we can accomplish when we allow ourselves to dream. Thanks for this marvelous article, Jan.

  10. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Loved your article and your painting of our famed Sundial Bridge, Jan. A great big thank you, should go out to the Carl & Leah McConnel Foundation for the grant to build this beautiful structure.

    I loved your description of the bridge in the rain.