The North Lake Shore Drive river crossing has a relatively short history. This is the first and only bridge built at this location. This bridge was part of the larger plan to build a major highway through downtown Chicago to facilitate traffic flow into and out of the city.
Planning began in 1926 and construction began in 1931. Funding ran out in 1932 with the crash of the municipal bond market. The WPA stepped in with assistance in 1935 and the bridge was completed in 1937. At the time of construction it was the widest, longest, and heaviest double leaf bascule bridge in the world.
The crossing consisted of two bascule bridges. There was a double leaf span (the current bridge) across the river and a single leaf span over Ogden Slip. Both bridges had a similar appearance in their deck trusses and bridge tender houses. The bridges were originally designed to carry trains on a future lower deck.
The original southern approach to this bridge was described as an “S-curve.” It ran on Field Boulevard (through the current Lake Shore East Development) to eastbound Wacker Drive and then onto northbound Lake Shore Drive. In the 1980's, the alignment of Lake Shore Drive was changed to its current location along the lake front east of the Lake Shore East development. It was during this project that the second traffic deck (lower deck) was added and the bascule bridge over Ogden slip was removed and replaced by the current fixed bridge.
The annual "Bike the Drive" event is held on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. The event provides an opportunity for a great bike ride and a once-a-year opportunity to explore the upper deck of the North Lake Shore Dr. bridge.
This bridge received some notoriety in 2004 when Richard Dorsay was found using the bridge as a home. He had built a shelter between the beams and girders under the deck and was reportedly was able to tap into power for a space heater, TV, microwave, and video games. He was found and evicted in December 2004. Ira Glass of "This American Life" interviewed Mr. Dorsay in the Prologue segment to the 5/7/2010 episode entitled The Bridge.