Sep 27 2016

On Thursday, October 6, the Kennedy School Theater is hosting the Portland premiere of the documentary Bridging Urban America about world-renown civil engineer and bridge architect Ralph Modjeski. Among his many structural feats are the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco, the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia and Portland's own Broadway Bridge.

Is there a McMenamins connection? Well, without the Broadway Bridge, many of us couldn't easily access the Broadway Pub! But more important, we are a company that believes in history and architecture and enlightenment. So without further ado, we give you Ralph Modjeski... [no, that's not Vladimir Putin, as one Facebook fan suggested].

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Modjeski was born in Poland in 1861 to famous European stage actress Helena Modjeska and her stage-manager husband "Count" Karol Bo?enta Ch?apowski. The family emigrated to the United States in 1876 so that Helena could further her career, but it was her child Ralph who earned world-wide acclaim and left a legacy that continues to this day.

Young Ralph was sent back to Europe in the early 1880s to attend l'Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées (the School of Bridges and Roads) in Paris. He graduated in the top of his class. It was in 1883, while studying at Paris, that he also obtained American citizenship.

After graduation, he returned to the United States. By 1893, he had founded a design firm in Chicago called Modjeski and Masters, which still exists today and is known as one of the top bridge engineering firms in the world.

During his career, Modjeski served as chief or consulting engineer on dozens of bridges across North America. In one notable example, Modjeski took over the project management of the Quebec Bridge after a fatal structural disaster killed 75 workers. With this bridge, Modjeski succeeded in creating the longest truss span in the world, though sadly an unrelated construction accident killed another 13 workers. The Quebec Bridge is still the longest cantilever bridge in the world.

Modjeski pioneered suspension bridges, and he built nearly 40 bridges spanning the rivers of North America. He died in 1940, leaving a heritage of accomplishment and technological achievement. The next time you cross the Broadway Bridge by car, bike, train or on foot, perhaps you will remember Modjeski.

From the film's award-winning producers: "Bridging Urban America has multi-generational significance and value. It is a relevant film addressing current issues to expand, improve and preserve and infrastructure, stimulating the economy and igniting passions and pride in the building of America. ... For bridge enthusiasts, history buffs, engineering junkies, artists and entrepreneurs, the documentary will be a magnificent cinematic experience."

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