“Chicago – the city of broad shoulders and big heart – has finished another job. The struggles, the years and work of planning, the boundless energy and courage of Chicago's builders to complete the longest bascule bridge in the world is a thrilling record of cooperation and conquest.” Those were Chicago Mayor Edward J. Kelly's remarks at the October 5, 1937 dedication ceremony of the Outer Drive bridge (Lake Shore Dr.).
The dedication ceremony was attended by tens of thousands and served as part of the year of celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Chicago's incorporation as a city. President Franklin D. Roosevelt also spoke during the festivities. The bridge was renamed the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Bridge in his honor in 1982.
The Outer Drive link joined the Lincoln Park and South Park boulevard systems. The project was a joint effort of the Chicago Plan Commission, Lincoln Park and South Park District Commissions, city, state, and federal agencies. Planning began in 1926 and construction began in 1931. Construction was suspended early in 1932 when the municipal bond market collapsed. Work began again in 1935 and was completed with the help of funds from the Public Works Administration.
The original crossing consisted of two bascule bridges – the current double-leaf bridge at the Chicago River and a shorter span single-leaf bridge over Ogden Slip. The bascule over Ogden Slip was removed and replaced with a fixed bridge in the mid-1980's in a project that added the lower deck to the double leaf bridge and straightened the original S-curve in the re-alignment of Lake Shore Dr.
When built, the bridge was the largest bascule bridge in the world. It is the biggest and busiest traffic-wise downtown with a leaf weight of 6,420 tons and a daily traffic count of more than 114,000 vehicles. In it's early years, it was raised 2,100 times annually.
Today it's more like 50 times a year for the annual migrations of the sail boats and the occasional convention-related dinner cruise. Over its life it has been raised approximately 38,800 times. While it provides a massive gateway into the city, it also is the answer to the trivia question, “What bridge did that guy live in?” In December of 2004, a homeless man was discovered living under the bridge deck. He had managed to tap into electric power from a bridge house to run a number of small appliances. One of the more unusual stories about a downtown bridge.