Bixby Bridge: Construction, History & Facts

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

The Bixby Bridge is a breathtaking open-spandrel arch bridge along the California coast that many locals call the gateway to Big Sur. In this lesson, we will learn about the bridge's history, construction, and other facts.

The West Coast's Prized Bridge

Black and White Photo of the Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge

Perhaps one of the most photographed bridges in the nation, the Bixby Bridge sits on the Pacific Coast Highway. It hugs the west coast along the breathtaking drive from San Francisco to Big Sur. The Bixby Bridge is often referred to as the gateway to Bug Sur, a stretch of California land protected by the Big Sur Land Trust to keep it in its natural, unadulterated condition. In this lesson, we will learn about the Bixby Bridge's rich history, its construction, and several fun facts that make it an important west coast landmark.

History

The Bixby Bridge was named for pioneer Charles H. Bixby, a New Yorker who fell in love with the California coast in 1852. For many years, he went back and forth between the east and west coasts. Eventually, he purchased 160 acres in 1889 south of Bixby Creek.

Bixby maintained the land and established a railroad. Bixby was the first to suggest building a road and bridge along this stretch of land, although it wouldn't be until 1919 that California considered building a bridge over Bixby Creek.The decision was a result of California approving the construction of Route 56, which would open up transportation options for residents in Big Sur.

Construction

Scenic View of the Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge Color

After C.H. Purcell, a highway engineer, and F.W. Panhorst developed designs for an open-spandrel arch bridge made of concrete, construction began on August 24, 1931 and ended on October 15, 1932. The bridge was made from concrete because it was affordable and looked more like the cliffs of the area.

To build the bridge, the construction team had to build a false bridge using 300,000 board feet of timber. 600,000 pounds of steel and 6,600 cubic yards of cement were used to complete it. In total, the bridge is 714 feet long and 218 feet above the surface below. After the completion of the bridge, it wasn't accessible until the coastal highway system was completed in 1937.

For safety reasons, the Bixby Bridge was retrofitted to withstand earthquakes in 1998. The process was incredibly difficult and expensive because California wanted to preserve the bridge's aesthetics. In all, it cost over $20 million to complete the retrofit and two years to complete it.

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