Does the #MBTA new design for the #Annisquam River bridge look like a prison tower to you?

MBTA Gloucester bridge sim

The tower and the scale of the concrete column brought to mind the opening scenes of Dr. Zhivago with Alec Guinness looking for his niece. Here’s a TCM film clip to give you some idea of what I mean despite cutting off right before the pan up to the guard tower.

Dr Z still


Here’s how the Annisquam bridge looks today.



Mostly great gorgeous marsh.

Its scale suits the site and often disappears. American artist Edward Hopper painted a close up in 1923.


There are four significant Edward Hopper artworks that are related to the commuter train he took from NYC to Gloucester, MA. I sent the images to Fay Spofford & Thorndike for their reference as in my professional experience any architects and engineers that I’ve worked with were keen on historic links. They couldn’t have known this one. Until I corrected the records in 2011, the Hopper watercolor was misattributed as an unidentified landscape, likely Maine or Massachusetts. It’s definitely Massachusetts–the Annisquam River train bridge in Gloucester, MA, to be precise. If you live here, you know that scene by heart. Hopper captured most every gateway to Gloucester. A 2012 photograph by Allegra Boverman reporting on bridge damage for the Gloucester Daily Times, zoomed in just so, helped me illustrate the match.

Catherine Ryan identifying Edward Hopper Annisquam River Bridge

I also shared the exciting Hopper news and connections with then Mayor Kirk, community development, Senator Tarr, the Gloucester Daily Times, and the Boston Globe. I wasn’t speaking to them about the design as I felt the state and the architects and engineers would be on that.

I have no idea when that distinct yellow shack–a mini me Cape Ann motif– was no longer there: perhaps it could be recreated, or a nod to the A Piatt Andrew bridge could be referenced with some planning? Maybe some of the diagonals of the old structure, or some other New England elements at the abutment sides could be incorporated into the design?

A couple of years later, I found an old Good Morning Gloucester post by Fredrik D. Bodin. There’s no mistaking that two level shack! I wish I could have spoken with him about the Curtis photograph.

a8767_017wm FRED BODIN little yellow house motif like and new england building on right

I don’t suggest that the treacherous bridge needs to be “preserved” or want to impede progress.  However, if there is a small way that the design can tip its hat to Hopper, Gloucester, New England…why not? It is a landmark, a beacon for Cape Ann.  It’s very exciting that the project is going out to bid. I hope the winning firm mitigates the design to temper any possible prison comparison. Leave the pier-column design but adjust the tower? Can it be both structurally sound and inspiring?

30 thoughts on “Does the #MBTA new design for the #Annisquam River bridge look like a prison tower to you?

  1. I’m a commuter that wants a safe bridge installed in less than the 3 to 4 years they say in will take. IDGAF what it looks like, but that probably puts me in the minority.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Absolutely! I hope I expressed that sentiment in favor of safety, necessity, and yes a swift build out. The marsh site is beautiful opportunity. Just pushing both/and.


  2. We shouldn’t have to pick only one thing thats important and we should expect to have it all, Beauty, safety and prompt replacement. Great read again Catherine. Thanks for giving me a opportunity to let the Senator know how I feel.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks, Kim. Agree, truly zip design which is not regulated. Some towns have more resources. Regardless, I am underwhelmed by decades of design “tool kits” related to build outs (and funding) across the state(s) — schools, libraries, and infrastructure–and overwhelmed by the sticker shock. Square footage build out cost for elementary schools (needed across the state) should not match or outpace bio hazard labs and Boston hospitals.

        For a bright and well directed model, we can look to Stacy Boulevard managed by Gloucester DPW, under Mike Hale!


    1. Thanks for adding into the conversation, Chester. I’m not sure where you fall with the comment. I think graffiti can be a nuisance or art. It won’t save this design but it would be a challenge to access.


  3. When the Zakim Bridge was built, they incorporated the Bunker Hill obelisk into it. A nice touch.
    Eventhough the bridge tender’s house looks like a guard tower…who cares. As long as it works.
    Maybe it could be round like the Logan Airport Control Tower. With the steeple from Glosta High.
    The graffiti artists will go nuts. Glad to see there is more intervisibility for boaters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t follow what you are saying. I care and I think many do. This bridge can be seen from one of the entrances to our city. It’s important to many of us who do care about enhancing the beauty and caring about building not for today but for tomorrow. We should not be content to settle for less.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Pauline, yes the original bridge had a long run! I liked boating under and taking the train.
        From the MBTA:
        “The existing bridge was built in 1911, reconstructed in 1932 and structurally rehabilitated in 1984. The span drive operating machinery and electrical drive were replaced in 1985…When fully opened, the bridge provides a 40’ wide navigational channel (between the timber fenders), without vertical restriction.”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Escape Pod, thanks for adding more details and remembering the boaters!

      The Zakim Bridge is laced in there alright.

      You aren’t alone in the “who cares?” sentiment. If it were in a different spot, it’s possible I could feel the same way. And you’re not alone opining “as long as it works.” Yet, why don’t we build everything then to look like prisons?

      I do care about how it’s made and functions, the cost, site and surroundings, and how it looks. There are a surprising amount of pinterest boards like “the 10 best prison tower designs” Some had the anatomy of a light house, variety of materials, shapes; all looked like prison guard towers. The tender could look a tad more tender

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Catherine!
    Thanks for interesting MBTA link on bridge.
    The people in Freeport, Maine were upset when McDonalds came to their town.
    So McDonalds put their restaurant inside a historic Colonial style house.
    I never said that Everything should look like a Prison!!
    Many people were upset about the wind turbines and now…who cares.
    You could put a BIG Billboard in the Marsh area to distract people from the eyesore.
    Maybe an ad for a HOOTERS in Glosta Crossing. LOL
    Did you know the Canadians got rid of their pennies and $1 bills?


    1. You’re welcome. OH thanks for the clarification. Really more like carry on, then. (And no clue on Canadian moola but I saw the Freeport Mcd’s!)


  5. Was this the only option to choose from…so much for it coinciding with the rest of the beautiful landscape of Gloucester. As usual, no practicality

    Liked by 1 person

  6. you would think with ball this granite laying around cape ann they could come up with a plan to use some of it on the new bridge tenders house. the concrete plant is right next to that bridge how about some creative concrete and i do know for a fact i can be done. the money the state gouges out of us taxpayers should cover it after all its our train, river and money so i say we should have a major say in the design.

    Liked by 1 person


    Liked by 1 person

  8. I am all for improving the look of it, but same as “Escape Pod”, as a boater I am especially interested in improving the ” intervisibility ” to opposing boat traffic. Regarding the current bridge you can’t see boat traffic coming the other way until you get right up to / almost under the bridge. Southbound has right-of-way, but it makes for conflicts every time. I am not sure the new design does much to take that into consideration.

    I don’t claim to be a civil engineer, but did they consider putting the “hinge” on the east side instead of the west ? Seems like there’d be alot more visibility up the river if the “hinge was on the east side.

    I photoshopped a mirror image of the bridge with the hinge reversed, but not sure how to post it (or if it would do any good 🙂 ).

    Liked by 1 person

  9. OK, I thought the perspective of the photo in this post was from the south looking north, but after further investigation perhaps it is looking south, and they DID put the hinge on the East side ? If so that is a good idea 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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