You are here

Arlington Memorial Bridge

-A A +A
1926–1932, McKim, Mead and White. Potomac River at west end of the Mall
  • Arlington Memorial Bridge (Library of Congress)
  • Arlington Memorial Bridge (Richard Guy Wilson)
  • Arlington Memorial Bridge (Richard Guy Wilson)
  • Arlington Memorial Bridge (Richard Guy Wilson)
  • Arlington Memorial Bridge (Richard Guy Wilson)

A bridge between Washington and Arlington, Virginia, was frequently proposed during the nineteenth century, but its site and orientation were not fixed until the Senate Park Commission included it as a formal and symbolic element in its 1901–1902 plan. Visually connecting the Lincoln Memorial to the CustisLee Mansion (Robert E. Lee's home) in Arlington National Cemetery, it is a metaphorical as well as an actual bridge. In 1922 the Arlington Memorial Bridge Commission began developing the bridge's dual role as a monumental approach to the city and to the cemetery. After determining its major elements, the architects McKim, Mead and White were chosen from a short list that included Charles Adams Platt and Paul Philippe Cret. The commission wanted the bridge complex to extend beyond the bounds of the river. It is organized around three traffic circles. The first redirects the Mall's axis (behind the Lincoln Memorial), the second acts as a traffic collector (on the Virginia banks of the Potomac), and the third is an entrance to the cemetery. Pylons surmounted by sculpture mark each transition, and an apsed wall terminates the vista at the cemetery end as seen from the Lincoln Memorial.

The reinforced concrete bridge (2, 138 feet long; 90 feet wide) consists of nine low arches and an electrically operated draw. Its formal inspiration was Roman aqueducts. The arch voussoirs and rusticated spandrels are faced with dressed North Carolina granite. Six-foot-tall heads of bison in the keystones were sculpted by Alexander Proctor; eagles in relief roundels set between fasces on the piers are the work of C. Paul Jennewein as are the eagles atop the pylons at the Arlington end of the bridge. Two monumental groups of equestrian sculpture at the Lincoln Memorial circle were part of McKim, Mead and White's design. Leo Friedlander's The Arts of War flanks the entrance to the bridge, and James Earle Fraser's The Arts of Peace leads to Rock Creek Park. Commissioned in 1925, these gilded bronze statues were not cast and put in place until 1951. Both sets recall the European use of similar equestrian sculptures in an urban context, particularly the four groups on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. This intense historicism in conjunction with thoroughly contemporary engineering, so typical of the period, resulted in a work that contributes considerably to Washington's monumental core.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Arlington Memorial Bridge", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 104-105.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.