Conde McCullough and the Siuslaw River Bridge (Florence, OR)

“From the dawn of civilization up to the present, engineers have been busily engaged in ruining this fair earth, and taking all the romance out of it. They have cluttered up God’s fair landscape with hideous little buildings and ugly railroads.”

Conde McCullough, 1937

One of the striking landscape features of coastal Oregon is the succession of beautiful bridges along the Oregon Coast Highway (US 101). Bridge engineer Conde McCullough almost single-handedly designed them during the 1920-30s, fourteen on Highway 101 alone. Twelve of the bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places. I never knew these were the work of one man, but that was before I started planning the current road trip and saw his name mentioned in connection with three of the bridges. A little digging revealed that he was responsible for about 600 in total during his career. His designs are distinguished for their sound construction and aesthetic appeal. Every one had a unique architectural design with the intent of harmonizing it with its surroundings. Almost all of them were constructed of reinforced concrete, which in most hands would wind up with uninspired design. McCullough was also concerned with keeping costs down. He was fond of using arches and employing Egyptian, classical, Gothic and other motifs that appeared in balustrades and span and support structures and art deco designs in obelisks.

One of his bridges is the one crossing the Siuslaw River in Florence. The characteristic approach obelisks are there, four in total. Then there are also art deco structures that served functional purposes—they housed mechanical equipment and provided housing for the bridge operator who managed the 149-foot bascule (or drawbridge) for boat traffic. The two sections swing up on massive hinges that provide 110 feet of clearance. The houses are topped with ornate roofs embellished with sunburst patterns. The concrete balustrades on either side consist of balusters that look like Gothic arches.

Art deco obelisk and Gothic pointed arches in Siuslaw River Bridge's balustrade

Art deco approach obelisk and Gothic pointed arches in Siuslaw River Bridge’s balustrade


While these Depression-era bridges were well-constructed for the time, the Oregon coast’s harsh conditions of rain, wind and salt water have deteriorated the concrete and steel to the point that they are now substandard and require major work to reinforce.

A Day in Newport, Oregon

Back in 2009, Newport appeared on our culinary radar when we ate a remarkable cioppino at Sharks Seafood Bar. It would be enough of a reason to come back again (and again). Aside from its many seafood restaurants, this town of 10,000 residents has several other attractions.

The most obvious physical presence in the city is the historic Yaquina Bay Bridge, one of many designed by Oregon engineer Conde McCullough. It is a steel and concrete arch bridge spanning Yaquina Bay that used to be crossed by ferry before the bridge’s completion in 1938. We walked partially across it to admire McCullough’s artistic touches: gothic pointed arches cut out in the balustrade and the art deco design of the four obelisks that flank both ends of the arch.

Yakina Bay Bridge

Yakina Bay Bridge

Art deco obelisk

Art deco obelisk

Entrance to the bridge

Entrance to the bridge

One of the finest aquariums in the country is also located here, the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Though my recall is vague of what I saw the last time I visited many years ago with my family, what did stick in my mind was a stunning display of jellyfish in a large cylindrical tank in which many diaphanous specimens floated up and down in dancelike movements, illuminated only by a single light from above. It was simple but spectacular. Our visit today was rewarded by another beautiful display of jellyfish (above) and equally fine exhibits of fascinating creatures and ecosystems that live off the Oregon coast.

A walk in the historic Bayfront area along Bay Boulevard still reflects Newport’s heritage as an important fishing village. It still is a port off Yaquina Bay where fishing fleets continue to work, has a fish processing plant and hosts several businesses, including many fine seafood restaurants. Murals by Rick Chambers adorn the sides of buildings, all of them paying homage to Newport’s maritime history.