JUNEAU — Commuters drive over the Mendenhall River in droves each day, glancing up at the glacier as they rush from one end of town to the other. But the well-used Brotherhood Bridge is more than just a means of getting from point A to point B. It holds historic significance and, until a year ago, historic artifacts that were a reminder of its Native roots.
Since it was dedicated in 1965, 10 bronze medallions, each emblazoned with the crest of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, decorated the railings of the Brotherhood Bridge, which was named for ANB.
About a year ago, when the bridge began to fall into disrepair, the medallions were removed and placed in a secret place for storage, Department of Transportation Southeast Region Director Al Clough said. But construction on a four-lane replacement bridge, twice the width of the current one, will begin in spring of 2014, and DOT intends to incorporate the medallions into its design, Clough said.
ANB Grand President Bill Martin said he’s “really pleased” that DOT suggested incorporating the medallions into the new bridge.
“(DOT) actually proposed it themselves; we didn’t go in there and say, ‘Hey, what about those medallions?’” Martin said. “They wanted to keep that part of the history.”
He’s also glad the bridge will keep its name, continuing to honor ANB and Juneau’s Native history.
“They didn’t have to (call the new bridge ‘Brotherhood Bridge’) — it’s a new thing,” Martin said. “I think what they’re doing is quite honorable and admirable.”
According to 1965 documents from the former Alaska Department of Highways, now the DOT, the two-foot-wide bronze crests were meant to be “the focal point of the bridge. This crest, which commemorates 50 years of brotherhood, is symbolic of the two great (Alaska Native) clans, the Raven and the Eagle, standing firmly together on the rock that is the Alaska Native Brotherhood. The Eagle is shown on the left and the Raven on the right, the difference between the two being in the beak and wing details ... Just as a rock is solid, so is the foundation of the union of these two clans.”
The current Brotherhood Bridge was dedicated on Oct. 18, 1965, and was designed by Tlingit engineer Roy Peratrovich, Jr. It cost about $820,000 to build and is actually the fourth to stand in the location. The first bridge was washed away in September 1918; the second was completed in March 1919; and the third, costing about $18,323, was built in 1931, according to Department of Highways documents. At an estimated $25 million, the new Brotherhood Bridge will be Juneau’s biggest transportation construction project for the next few years, Clough said in a previous Juneau Empire report.
Although it hasn’t been decided exactly how the new bridge will look, Southeast Region Environmental Manager Jane Gendron said DOT intends to incorporate six to eight of the medallions into the railings.
“The designers have developed a concept for the replacement railing, and we provided those to members of the local cultural community and asked for their input,” Gendron said.
DOT spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the department is “still consulting with the ANB, Douglas Indian Association, CBJ, (the State Historic Preservation Office) and (the Federal Highway Administration); and have not yet finalized how the medallions will be used.”
DOT first contacted the City and Borough of Juneau’s Historic Resources Advisory Committee about the medallions in August of 2011, according to city meeting minutes. The committee provided the department with feedback on the idea to incorporate the medallions into the new bridge.
Committee member Marie Darlin, a lifetime Juneau resident, said she advocated for the use of the medallions.
“We hoped they would be maintaining the medallions and using them on the new bridge,” she said. “Anyone who’s lived here their whole life, and I have, would know it’s part of the history of the bridge.”