April 15, 2013

Bridges of Yosemite Valley: A Photographer's Personal Account

  • More: National Treasures
  • By: Brian Grogan, Photography + Preservation Associates
  • Photography: Brian Grogan for the Historic American Engineering Record

Last year we added the bridges of Yosemite Valley to our 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list and our National Treasures portfolio out of concern for how the National Park Service’s plan to manage the Merced River would impact the historic Rustic-style stone bridges that span the river. Despite our ongoing advocacy efforts, earlier this year the National Park Service released a draft plan calling for the demolition of the beloved Sugar Pine Bridge and 100 other historic structures in the Yosemite Valley Historic District.

Photographer Brian Grogan generously agreed to share with us some of his gorgeous photos of Yosemite’s bridges and his thoughts about their importance to the park’s landscape. Take a minute to be dazzled by these bridges’ rustic simplicity.

North side of Sugar Pine Bridge. Half Dome is viewed through the trees at left rear.

photo by: Brian Grogan for the Historic American Engineering Record

Brian Grogan, Photography + Preservation Associates:

In 1991 the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) program of the National Park Service performed a formal historical documentation of the historic bridges and roads of Yosemite National Park.

I was wonderfully fortunate to be hired by the National Park Service to produce the HAER documentation photography for this project. At the time I had lived in the Yosemite area for almost fifteen years and was certainly familiar with the bridges, having crossed them innumerable times as well as floated or swam under many of them.

Sugar Pine Bridge across the Merced with Royal Arches in background.

photo by: Brian Grogan for the Historic American Engineering Record

Detail view of Sugar Pine Bridge showings granite facing, cut granite arch, and reinforced concrete arch.

photo by: Brian Grogan for the Historic American Engineering Record

Yet this assignment to produce the historical record photographs of these elegant structures lead me to an entirely new appreciation of the inherent beauty of the bridges, the craftsmanship of their construction, and the legacy they represent in the history of the National Parks.

The Sugar Pine Bridge in Yosemite Valley is an outstanding historic example of the rustic architectural style that has served as the defining design aesthetic for the National Park Service, both in Yosemite National Park and throughout the National Parks system.

Sugar Pine Bridge across the Merced River view looking up river.

photo by: Brian Grogan for the Historic American Engineering Record

Northwest corner of Sugar Pine Bridge. Glacier Point is seen in the background.

photo by: Brian Grogan for the Historic American Engineering Record

Such considered care was given in these early days of the National Parks to gracefully incorporating these structures into the landscape that the designs for these Yosemite Valley bridges underwent a formal review and approval process under the auspices of the National Commission of Fine Arts.

Sugar Pine Bridge should be saved both for its aesthetic and historic value as well as for the means it provides for the park visitors to explore and experience the wonders of Yosemite.

Southside of Sugar Pine showing granite arch and granite clad facing.

photo by: Brian Grogan for the Historic American Engineering Record

View of Half Dome looking east across Sugar Pine Bridge

photo by: Brian Grogan for the Historic American Engineering Record

Editor’s note: The formal HAER documents from Yosemite are now housed in the United States Library of Congress, including a history of these features, formal drawings of the bridges, and large format black and white photographs. All this material is available to the public and easily accessible online.

By: Brian Grogan, Photography + Preservation Associates

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