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Colorado Street Bridge: History, Heritage and Hope

During the early part of the twentieth century, the Colorado Street Bridge became known colloquially as “Suicide Bridge” after dozens of people hurdled to their deaths from it. – Photo by Terry Miller

By Terry Miller

A new book, “Arroyo” by Chip Jacobs, has recently been published by Rare Bird Books. The novel has a heavy focus on one of Pasadena’s most iconic, mysterious and forlornly rather notorious structures.

For decades, hundreds of people have leaped to their deaths 150 feet from the Colorado Street Bridge onto the arroyo below.

During the early part of the twentieth century, the Colorado Street Bridge became known colloquially as “Suicide Bridge” after dozens of people hurdled to their deaths from it.

Despite the city’s request that the media refrain from using the term, the nickname was already embedded in the collective consciousness of Pasadena.

The bridge had a bad reputation even before it was completed, as a construction worker fell to his death and landed in the wet cement under the bridge. Supposedly he is still there today. The number of deaths spiked during the Great Depression but didn’t stop there.

Construction began in July 1912 and lasted 18 months, employing 40 to 100 workers on any given day. Built with 11,000 cubic yards of concrete – made from gravel collected from the arroyo – and 600 tons of steel reinforcement, the bridge cost a total of $235,000.

“Set against two distinct epochs in the history of Pasadena writer and debut novelist Chip Jacobs writes in Arroyo the parallel stories of a young inventor and his clairvoyant dog in 1913 and 1993. In both lives, they are drawn to the landmark Colorado Street Bridge, or ‘Suicide Bridge,’ as the locals call it, which suffered a lethal collapse during construction but still opened to fanfare in the early twentieth century automobile age,” according to a press release sent out in mid-August.

Jacobs’ novel digs into Pasadena’s “most mysterious structure and the city itself. In their exploits around what was then America’s highest, longest roadway Route 66, Nick Chance and his impish mutt interact with some of the big personalities from the Progressive Age, including Teddy Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, Charles Fletcher Lummis, and Lilly and Adolphus Busch, whose gardens were once tabbed the ‘eighth wonder of the world.’ They cavort and often sow chaos at Cawston Ostrich Farm, the Mount Lowe Railway, the Hotel Green and even the Doo Dah Parade,” said Darcie Rowan public relations.

Now, Pasadena and the community at large are struggling with what to do to prevent future suicides from the storied bridge.

The first suicide was on Nov. 16, 1919, and nearly fifty of the suicides occurred during the Great Depression from 1933 to 1937. Another report predicts that ninety-five people committed suicide from the bridge between the years of 1919 and 1937.

The Pasadena Central Library has three thick binders on the bridge filled with all sorts of interesting articles and historical facts on the structure. The bridge underwent a twenty seven million dollar renovation in 1993, during which it received a suicide barrier. This has reduced the number of suicides, although the bridge still retains its notorious handle.

Countless hours of testimony and public input over the past years have proved fruitless as far as prevention but now the city believes it may now have the answer albeit divisive.

In 2015 a group of Marine veterans held a “Not on My Watch” march across the bridge to educate the community that there is hope and suicide is never the answer. While commendable, the effort was short lived and the suicides continued.

Several designs have been suggested and tossed in the ever-full planning department’s wastepaper basket over the years … primarily due to aesthetics. The bridge is a landmark and exceptionally a loved part of Pasadena. Creating barriers that would blend with the iconic design would indeed be a real challenge.

The public was invited to the first community meeting for the Colorado Street Bridge – Suicide Mitigation Enhancements Project late September. The city and its Colorado Bridge Project Team presented the project scope and schedule for the design of a vertical barrier on the Colorado Street Bridge, and gather feedback and ideas from the public.

After evaluating a multitude of suicide deterrent measures and holding two community meetings to solicit public input on Nov. 29, 2017 and Feb. 20, 2018, the Colorado Street Bridge Task Force reached the conclusion that a vertical barrier with end treatments is the only means to effectively deter suicide attempts. In May of this year, City Council authorized the award of a professional services contract to Donald MacDonald Architects to complete the environmental and design phases of the project. The goal of the enhanced vertical barrier is to add a safety system to the Colorado Street Bridge without disrupting its structural and historical character.

According to many, a number of spirits are said to wander the bridge itself as well as the arroyo below the bridge. Others have allegedly heard unexplained cries coming from the canyon. One report tells of spectral man that is often seen wandering the bridge who wears wire rimmed glasses. Other people have claimed to see a woman in a long flowing robe, who stands atop one of the parapets, before vanishing as she throws herself off the side, according to Legends of America

Colorado Bridge Suicide Mitigation – Project Update

City staff will present vertical barrier design concepts to City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Dec. 18 for their advisory review and feedback. 

Full-size mock-ups of the top three preferred barrier concepts will be installed on the Colorado Bridge for further evaluation by the public, city commissions and City Council, in early 2020. The national Suicide Prevention Hotline — (800) 273-8255 — There is always HOPE.