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Bronze doors heading back to bridge

Posted: 10/24/15

By Keith Powers / capeann@wickedlocal.com

Everyone who lives on Cape Ann has whizzed by the commemorative bronze doors that grace the tall pylons supporting the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge. Since the doors are going back up on the bridge next month, the museum will have a free day on Nov. 1 so the public can have one last (extended) viewing. The refurbished doors will be back up on the bridge in plain sight after that, but looking at them won’t be the same.

Stop and see this artwork soon. The next time you try, you might get arrested.

Everyone who lives on Cape Ann has whizzed by the commemorative bronze doors that grace the tall pylons supporting the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge. Ever noticed them? Didn’t think so.

Four doors — matching sets of two each — were commissioned in 1950 to put the finishing touches on the span that gave rise to the phrase “going over the bridge.” One set of doors bears the likeness of A. Piatt Andrew, the founder of the Ambulance Field Service during World War I, longtime member of Congress and Gloucester resident, for whom the bridge was named.

The other set tells the story of the Gloucester fishing industry in bas-relief. Both are beautiful works in bronze by John Paramino (1888–1956), a prolific sculptor whose work graces many public places in greater Boston.

As part of the bridge construction project — the work that’s had you sitting in traffic for the past couple of years — the doors were taken down, cleaned, repatinated and waxed. Thanks to some quick thinking by the Mass DOT and the Gloucester Historical Society, after the restoration was finished in April, a pair of the doors went on view at the Cape Ann Museum.

“We had an open house when the doors were first installed here,” says CAM curator Martha Oaks, “and we were swarmed with people. It really surprised us. One fellow was telling me how he and his friends used to drag race their roadsters on the bridge. One woman wrote in the guest book about how she used to climb up inside the pylons and watch the traffic. We were amazed that first day at how people remembered.”

Because of the response, and since the doors are going back up on the bridge next month, the museum will have a free day on Nov. 1 so the public can have one last (extended) viewing. The refurbished doors will be back up on the bridge in plain sight after that, but looking at them won’t be the same. Unless you want to get arrested for parking on the highway.

The interest in the doors transcends their historic value and sculptural appeal. Some Cape Ann residents still remember the bridge going up, and the long process that culminated in Route 128’s completion. Work on the road started in 1936, and Gloucester wasn’t connected to the rest of the route until 1958.

The bridge work — a staggering engineering project for the day — started in 1947 and was finished in 1950. Since the bridge was finished several years before the last section of 128 connected to it, it offered plenty of chance for locals to explore the span surreptitiously. Hence the drag racing, and sneaking up inside the pylons.

To complement the showing of the doors, the museum has placed out several books of photographs that it owns, taken by engineer Lloyd Runkle, documenting the construction. “It was a different era,” Oaks says. “We dug around our archives, and we have oodles of photographs, but none of them actually show the doors. That’s why it’s so great to have them here.

“Jeffrey Shrimpton of the Department of Transportation worked closely with us to install them. We were undergoing our own renovation, and thanks to him, we had our walls fortified so they wouldn’t collapse from the weight.”

Shrimpton, an historic research specialist, works on many public works projects, weighing historical concerns. “We have to look at every project, to make sure we address any impact. In this case, the general contractor was instructed to hire a specialist in metal conservation.” Robert Shure of Skylight Studios in Woburn was eventually contracted for the restoration.

Shrimpton remains unsure why the elaborate commemorative doors were constructed in the first place. “We think there was some consideration for having a walking path across the bridge when it was designed,” he says. “That obviously didn’t happen — there’s no walking allowed on the bridge.

“It was really the Gloucester Historic Commission that made certain the bridge doors were displayed at the museum,” he says. “That commission has always been very active, and we wanted to get input from them.”

CAM’s free day will include a lecture by David Kruh, whose 2003 book “Building Route 128” documents the process. The museum will have free admission all that day, but Oaks notes that “if anyone comes in anytime before then, and needs to see the doors before they go back, we’ll let them in.”