Cabrillo Bridge
The Cabrillo Bridge in San Diego, California is a historic pedestrian and automobile bridge providing access between Balboa Park and the Uptown area of San Diego. It was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The bridge was built for the Panama-California Exposition of 1915. It provided the main access across Cabrillo Canyon (formerly known as Pound Canyon, which was used to hold cattle and horses in the late 19th century). Building began in December 1912 under the supervision of Frank P. Allen, Jr. The bridge was designed by Thomas B. Hunter of San Francisco. The innovative design featured a multiple-arched cantilever structure, the first such bridge in California. The concrete forms were made of 1,000,000 board feet (2,400 m 3) of wood, mostly redwood. The length of the bridge is 916 feet (279 m) including approaches. The main span is 450 feet (140 m) long and 120 feet (37 m) high. The seven arches are each 56 feet (17 m) across and are supported by fourteen hollow concrete pillars.

The Cabrillo Bridge is one of several access routes to the cluster of museums located at the "Prado" (the former 1915 Panama Exposition site), which is east of the bridge in the middle of Balboa Park and continuing to a point near the Bea Evenson Fountain (and former trolley stop) just west of Park Boulevard. The east-west street atop the two-lane bridge is called "El Prado." Many people mistakenly refer to the street as Laurel Street, which is a continuation of El Prado but ends at Sixth Avenue, and some refer to the bridge as the Laurel Street Bridge. Sixth Avenue forms the western boundary of Balboa Park. Laurel Street continues west from Sixth Avenue to form the southern border of San Diego's International Airport, Lindbergh Field, and ends at Harbor Drive on San Diego Bay. The structure is easily seen from the scenic Cabrillo Freeway (State Route 163), which is located on the floor of the canyon below. Construction of the freeway through the canyon below the bridge was completed in February 1948. However, traffic on the bridge is not visible from the freeway due to the unusual height of the bridge. The height is dictated entirely by the topography of the canyon. El Prado crosses the bridge at the same level as the ground on either end of the bridge, while State Route 163 passes beneath it at approximately the level of the original canyon floor. There is no direct access route between State Route 163 and Laurel Street or El Prado.


1915 Exposition
The bridge was primarily intended as a pedestrian pathway to the 1915 Exposition. The bridge's construction cost reached $250,000 ($5,409,539 today). It was dedicated April 12, 1914 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt made the inaugural automobile crossing along with the mayor of the city, Charles F. O'Neill. For the next two years, auto traffic was reserved mostly for dignitaries. Roosevelt returned in 1935, this time as President of the United States, to cross the bridge again for Balboa Park's second Exposition.

In July 1951, a small fire ignited in the easternmost span of the bridge. Redwood timbers, used as concrete forms in the original construction, smoldered for several hours. Once put out, the blaze was quickly forgotten. But as Balboa Park historian Richard Amero noted, the fire was an "omen," and "nothing was done to reduce the likelihood of future fires." The "future" fire erupted before dawn on June 17, 2004. Once again, aged wooden concrete forms ignited, possibly the result of arson, inside the bridge columns. The fire was difficult to reach and extinguish. Firefighters saved the structure by sawing holes in the bridge's sidewalks with jackhammers and saws to pump in foam and water. If one walks across the bridge, it is easy to sight those now repaired holes which the firefighters cut that day. The near-disaster spurred a major rehabilitation of the Cabrillo Bridge. A one-year, Caltrans project repaired broken concrete, replaced corroded steel, finally removed old wood from the original construction.


By October 1931, 17 people had "made the leap into eternity" from the bridge, said Mayor Walter Austin. One city official, after talk of installing suicide preventative measures failed, mentioned that "after a council meeting there are times a councilman might want to make use of a bridge." In 1934, a despondent sailor jumped from the bridge and splashed into the man made lagoon (Laguna de Puente) that at that time lay below. He survived, bruised but living. It was said that when the ambulance arrived, he sat at the edge of the lagoon and complained of a headache. Finally in June 1950, city workers installed wrought iron fencing on both parapets of the bridge. Although many people have jumped off the bridge since, and died, the fencing has likely directed suicidal folks to other means, like the Coronado Bridge, far taller, and finished around 1970.

Directly below the bridge, on the west side of the canyon, where the pond once existed, a rainwater tunnel opening sits. This tunnel is 6' in diameter, and extends to the southern end of the SR-163, roughly 1/2 mile. In 2008, a group of transients penetrated the secured entrance on the north facing side of the very western edge of the bridge and proceeded to build an elaborate housing structure of many levels inside the hollow bridge. In a story in the Union-Tribune, the transients and police described the antiques, furniture, and lighting systems. After that, the Park Rangers had the manhole covers welded shut, and secondary covers placed over all of the locking mechanisms to prevent further ingress.