The Pedestrian Bridge on the Arkansas River is where Tulsans go to enjoy the picturesque view of downtown, ride their bikes, fish, watch fireworks and propose marriage.
As we look ahead to the exciting prospect of A Gathering Place for Tulsa, we should also look back to 1974, when the idea of the River Parks as a destination for outdoor activities became a reality.
It all started when the Missouri Pacific Railway abandoned the old Midland Valley Railroad bridge over the Arkansas River and right-of-way east of Riverside Drive. A few months later, the railway deeded both to the city of Tulsa.
The fledgling River Parks Authority, a partnership of Tulsa and Tulsa County was formed to protect and develop the riverfront.
When it first opened to the public in 1975, the Pedestrian Bridge began at 29th Street and Riverside Drive and ended abruptly in the middle of the river. Three years later, after negotiations with Texaco (which owned property on the west bank), the western half of the bridge was completed and visitors could finally walk all the way across.
Most of the money for the bridge came from the federal government, but readers of The Tulsa Tribune responded to a campaign by the newspaper and donated $20,000 for the project.
Even then, Tulsans were looking forward to what the once-ignored stretch of the Arkansas River could become, according to a July 1, 1975, story by Tribune reporter Dan Osborne.
“To local officials,” Osborne wrote, “completion of the bridge marks the vanguard of the planned River Park on both banks of the Arkansas between the bridge and 11th Street. Officials have hoped completion of the first project would stimulate public support for the River Park concept and generate momentum for planning of future endeavors along the river.”
Jackie Bubenik, the original director of the River Parks Authority told the Tribune:
“Symbolically, what we have at the bridge is a structure that served the purpose for which it originally was intended and which has been converted into a very useful structure.
“The bridge could serve as a symbol of the river itself. What has been done with the bridge can be done with the river. That is to make it into something useful and attractive for the people of Tulsa.”
The first phase of A Gathering Place for Tulsa will undoubtedly bring exponential growth to an area where a simple bridge helped start it all.
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