The Tower Bridge, built in 1935, is one of the few Works Progress Administration icons in Sacramento and a beloved civic landmark.
In its own way, it is perfect as is. It changes color throughout the day and across the seasons. It is a brilliant gold during our punishingly sunny summer afternoons, and a soft metallic green at dusk. I often envision my own mother as a young teenage girl in Sacramento in the 1940s looking at the bridge at night.
The Tower Bridge is undeniably the gateway to our capital city, never mind that it leads to a grim, Soviet-looking row of state office buildings on the much-neglected Capitol Mall.
Now a group, RePower the Tower, wants to illuminate the Tower Bridge with new LED lighting to the tune of $900,000. That’s a lot of Home Depot runs.
Never miss a local story.
A civic group wants to re-light Sacramento’s iconic Tower Bridge with LED lighting. But some of us find the landmark lovely as is.
Led (LED?) by the civic activist and former Sacramento County supervisor and Pete Wilson hand Sandy Smoley, the group proposed 8,000 possible variations on our current bridge lighting strategy, which is white light at night and letting nature bend the spectrum around during the day.
I am of mixed mind about this. RePower the Bridge argues that we could have the bridge be purple to honor the Kings, or a rainbow to celebrate diversity. Devotees of the Farm to Fork Bridge Dinner would be positively aglow in their celebrity/power-hitter chow down.
Lighting bridges is not a new concept. The Bay Bridge has 250,000 LEDs currently illuminating the 1936 structure, and many other cities have lit up their bridges in a similar manner.
Yet in my travels, I have never seen a bridge quite as idiosyncratic as the Tower Bridge. It is rather squat, not very tall or long, and looks like it might have been the architectural brainchild of the person who designed the DC-3. Yeah, it’s kind of homely, but it flies reliably. Get in. No, there aren’t drinks served on this flight. We’ll be in Grand Rapids in 2 hours, depending on the headwind.
When I heard about this plan to light the Tower from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time with 21st-century geegaws for a New Deal form-over-function design concept, I felt a bit wistful.
Must there always be progress? Might that civic energy be better expended on, say, getting rid of those chunks of downtown that resemble the grim set for a 1947 B-movie? I half expect Robert Mitchum to step out of the shadows with a heater and a dangling Lucky Strike when I’m in that area.
My father repeatedly admonished me that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and it’s a useful lesson. This effort seems to me to be one of those moments. Do we also relight Gunthers Ice Cream and take down the corny soda jerk? Nah.
A more useful expenditure of $900,000 might be to construct a nice canvas cover for the silly and overpriced Jeff Koons © glass Piglet Blob that graces the entrance to the otherwise spectacular Golden 1 Center.
But “progress” happens. So, fine. Have at it. I suppose it could be better than I thought.
But I kind of like the Tower Bridge as is: homely in an attractive way, unpretentious and not at all hip. You know, real.
Note: An earlier version misidentified the San Francisco bridge that has lights. It’s the Bay Bridge.