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Long Beach's pontoon bridge

Long Beach’s pontoon bridge

August 1958: Ten thousand cars on average cross over a World War II-era pontoon bridge connecting Southwest Long Beach with Terminal Island.

Writer Steve Harvey reported in the Oct. 3, 2010, Los Angeles Times:

It may not have embodied the majesty of New York’s Brooklyn Bridge or the beauty of San Francisco’s Golden Gate, but Long Beach’s pontoon bridge did rise to great heights of quirkiness.

No wonder it played a role in a chase scene in the 1963 comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

The floating span, which connected downtown Long Beach with Terminal Island, was built by the Navy during World War II as a “6-month temporary emergency structure” to improve access to its big shipyard and base.

Temporary turned out to be 24 years.

It wasn’t replaced until 1968 when the 1,053- foot-long Gerald Desmond Bridge was finished.

One of the more unusual features of the pontoon bridge was its shape.

“It went down instead of up,” the Times’ Charles Hillinger wrote in 1968, referring to its deck, which dropped 17 to 25 feet below street level, depending on tidal conditions.

Speeding drivers occasionally flew out of control, crashing through a side wall and landing in the 50-foot-deep waters below.

Bridge operator Toby Reed told The Times in 1966 that he had seen eight cars and a motorcycle go over the side.

“That’s when we grab the life rings and hurl them into the channel,” he said.

The above photo was published in the Aug. 24, 1958, Los Angeles Times.

Steve Harvey’s full story Bridge is afloat on the pages of history is online.

The Gerald Desmond Bridge is currently being replaced. For more, check out this Nov. 16, 2013, story by Christine Mai-Duc: Slow and steady builds massive Long Beach bridge.

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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