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John A. Weeks III
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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Endless Bridge
Mississippi River Observation Deck
Minneapolis, MN

Endless Bridge

• Structure: Endless Bridge, Guthrie Theater.
• Location: River Mile 853.6.
• River Elevation: 750 Feet.
• Structure Type: Cantilevered Steel Truss
• Length: 178 Feet.
• Width: 36 Feet (Estimated).
• Height Above Water: 126 Feet (Estimated).
• Date Built: 2006.
The Endless Bridge at the Guthrie Theater is Minneapolis is neither endless, nor is it really a bridge. It doesn't cross water, and, in fact, it never gets closer to the Mississippi River than 275 feet. However, it offers the single best view of the Mississippi River anywhere along its 2,552 mile length.

The Guthrie Theater opened in May, 1963, based on Sir Tyrone Guthrie's 1959 idea for an off-Broadway regional theater that could focus on high quality productions without the financial pressures of a Broadway play. The first Guthrie was located southwest of downtown Minneapolis on the grounds of the Walker Art Museum. It featured a thrust stage that projected out into the theater space, with seating that wrapped two-thirds of the way around the stage. Productions often used minimal set pieces that suggested rather than defined the scenery, allowing the audience to use their imagination.

The Guthrie evolved into a regionally important theater and enjoyed great success. Over time, multiple concurrent productions were running, but the building could not accommodate more than one play at a time, so additional space around the city was leased. By the late 1990s, it was realized that a new building with multiple stages would be needed.

The Guthrie held a design competition for a new building in 2001. Property was purchased along the riverfront in the historic milling district next to the closed Pillsbury ‘A Mill’. French architect Jean Nouvel entered the competition and visited the site. As he walked the site, he realized that the signature feature was the Mississippi River. Nouvel has been quoted as saying that he always tries to find the missing puzzle piece for every building that he designs. For the new Guthrie Theater, that piece was the river. To sell his concept, Nouvel rented a cherry picker, set it up on the West River Parkway in front of the building site, and took Guthrie Director Joe Dowling up into the air to see the view. Nouvel explained that no matter what they did with the building behind them, this was the view, and they had to incorporate it into the building.

The design that emerged included a lower building for the main stage, a short tower for smaller space and office area, a parking ramp, and workshops built on top of the ramp. A skyway would connect the workshops to the theaters to allow set pieces to be built away from the stage, then rapidly rolled into place to allow the theaters to be quickly reconfigured between productions. The new building opened in early summer of 2006.

The signature feature of the Guthrie Theater is the Endless Bridge. This is a cantilevered bridge that extends 178 feet north of the building to a point that is 50 feet above the West River Parkway. The vantage point is located just downstream of Upper Saint Anthony Falls, and it offers a sweeping view of the falls area and the historic Stone Arch Bridge. The structure is a steel truss that is counterbalanced by the weight of the building. It extends from the building between the 4th and 5th floors. The observation deck has a series large steps for sitting or standing, which gives the feel of a theater space with the Mississippi River being the stage.

Normally, one would expect a feature like the Endless Bridge to require an admission ticket. However, the Guthrie took the approach that they want to draw people in. The theater building is open to the public without charge seven days a week, and most nights until 11 PM. Anyone can wander in, check out the architecture, visit the gift shop, dine at one of the restaurants or cafes, and visit the Endless Bridge. There is ample parking available, both in a public parking ramp or at meters along local streets.

Shortly after the Guthrie Theater opened in 2006, the nearby Interstate highway I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed. Public officials scrambled to close down every possible view of the disaster in an attempt to tightly control information and manage public perceptions of the event. Any bridge with a view was closed, and fences were erected for blocks around the site to prevent looking over the edge of the bluffs. The Guthrie, however, refused to close the Endless Bridge. In fact, they continued to welcome in large crowds of viewers. For two weeks in August, 2007, the Endless Bridge was the only place that the public could see the bridge collapse site.

The photo above is looking west towards the new Guthrie Theater from the top of the hill at the nearby Gold Medal Park. Downtown Minneapolis is in the background. The photo below is looking south towards the Guthrie Theater from the Stone Arch Bridge. The Endless Bridge extends from the building towards the camera just below the yellow windows.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The photo above is a closer view of the Endless Bridge as it extends north over West River Parkway. The vantage point is along the parkway near the access road to the Upper Saint Anthony Falls Lock & Dam. The photo below is a view from almost the same location from spring of 2005. I happened to capture a view of of the Endless Bridge under construction in the background of a photo of the Stone Arch Bridge.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The photo above is looking west towards the Endless Bridge from the top of the hill at Gold Medal Park. The old Gold Medal Flour mill is located just behind the bridge closer towards downtown Minneapolis. The photo below is looking up towards the observation deck at the end of the structure.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The photo below is looking southwest towards the bridge from ground level along the West River Parkway. The photo below is a similar view looking to the south east. The structure at the end of the walkway deck is a short glass wall with a wide stainless steel railing at the top.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The photo above is looking towards the theater building directly under the Endless Bridge. It is dark under the bridge deck, resulting in the rest of the photo being overexposed. Several of these photos show the catwalk hanging under the Endless Bridge. In this view, we can see the stairway leading down to the catwalk along with the railing at the end of the walkway. This walkway is not open to the public. The photo below is looking straight up towards the end of the Endless Bridge.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The photo above is looking east towards the Endless Bridge from the outdoor patio that runs along the west side of the theater. The photo below is a close view of the west face of the north end of the structure. The catwalk hanging under the bridge is visible in both photos.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The photo above is the sign in the theater walkway leading to the Endless Bridge. The purple light creates a fantastic effect illuminating the etched area in the glass to form the letters in the words. The photo below is the ramp leading up to the entrance to the bridge from the fourth floor of the building.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The Endless Bridge is located between the fourth and fifth floors of the Guthrie Theater. The photo above is looking down the ramp to the fourth floor from the landing leading to the walkway. The photo above is the ramp leading up to the fifth floor from the walkway landing.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
There are a number of shaped windows cut into the side of the Endless Bridge. Each window is positioned in such a manner to frame a particular view to highlight a location that is historically significant. The photo below is looking east from one such window. This view overlooks the West River Parkway, Gold Medal Park, and the I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge in the distance.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The photo above is the observation area at the end of the Endless Bridge. The photo below is a view of the falls area and the Stone Arch Bridge. Architect Jean Nouvel was right...this is THE view that this building simply had to have. Well done, and thank you for sharing it with the public.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
The photo above is a view of I-35W Bridge after it collapsed in August, 2007. The Lower Saint Anthony Falls Lock & Dam is in the foreground, and the 10th Avenue Bridge is in the background. The photo below is the new I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge, built to replace the bridge that collapsed in 2007. Both views are from the Endless Bridge. While some of the site can be seen from the outdoor observation deck, the best sightlines were looking though one of the windows, which adds just a bit of haze to these photos.

Endless Bridge
Endless Bridge
These two photos are night views of the Guthrie Theater, looking south across the Mississippi River navigation channel from the deck of the Stone Arch Bridge. The photo above is a wide view showing the theater and the Endless Bridge sitting on the bluff overlooking the Saint Anthony Falls area. The photo below is a close view of the theater.

Endless Bridge

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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