1899 October 3 14th Street Viaduct
14th Street Viaduct
Between the years of 1881 and 1908, the City of Denver embarked on a massive bridge building project. These were not metaphorical bridges between disparate groups, these were real steel and concrete bridges known locally as, “viaducts” (more on the difference between “bridges” and “viaducts” later).
During the period mentioned, the City of Denver constructed 21 bridges and viaducts, including the 14th Street Viaduct pictured above, for a total cost of $905,502.93, according to the Denver Municipal Facts. That comes out to roughly $24.5 million in today’s dollars and represented a substantial investment for the young city.
So, what makes a viaduct different from a plain old bridge? According to Merriam Webster, a viaduct is a, “.long elevated roadway usually consisting of a series of short spans supported on arches, piers, or columns.” A bridge, on the other hand, is, “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle (such as a river).” As most of the viaducts crossed either Cherry Creek or the Platte River, Denver’s viaduct system could have really been called either.
Because the viaducts stretched well beyond the banks of the Platte and Cherry Creek, they had the serendipitous side effect of creating an almost subterranean-like world in the shadows under their girders. These shadowy spots provided shelter for the homeless and, in later years a film noir-like atmosphere for Denver night spots like the Wazee Street Supper Club and Rock Island.
For better or worse, most of the viaducts are gone and the ethereal light that’s captured in today’s photo are a thing of the past. Nonetheless, those elevated roadways gave Denver a unique visual character for the better part of a century.
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