Guardian of the Harbor: The Verrazano Narrows Bridge

By Natalie Abruzzo




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Verrazano Narrows Bridge Construction. Photographer: Unknown. Date: 1960s. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.

The waterway traditionally seen as the entry to New York City is the Narrows, a tidal strait between the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn. The Narrows and the surrounding military forts have been protecting New York Harbor for centuries. In 1964, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge – connecting the two boroughs – became the newest guardian of the Harbor. As the bridge celebrates its 50th anniversary, Natalie Abruzzo looks at the structure’s controversial beginnings…and the tensions it represents for New York’s so-called “forgotten borough.”

Staten Island was once comprised of farmlands and beach fronts. Prior to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the 69th Street Ferry from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn used to bring passengers between the two boroughs as many people who lived in other parts of New York City visited Staten Island as a weekend and summer getaway spot. There were resorts up and down the east shore of the Island – from Tottenville to South Beach. Midland Beach and South Beach were filled with bungalows, resorts and hotels. There was even a passenger train that went from St. George to South Beach regularly, because of the large amount of visitors.

Previously accessible only by boat, the city’s fifth borough was now connected to the rest of the city by road. Services for the 69th Street Ferry ended once the bridge was completed.

The bridge also brought a real estate and business boom to the sleepy beach resort island. However, between the rise in traffic and the demise in neighborhoods, such as Arrochar, not all Staten Islanders would see the building of the Verrazano as an unmitigated good.

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Verrazano Narrows Bridge Construction. Photographer: Unknown. Date: 1960s. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.

At the time of this reporting, a toll hike has been proposed for the bridge. It will be the fourth one in the past 7 years. Many of the boroughs’ elected officials chose not to support the Verrazano’s 50th Anniversary ceremony as a silent protest to the MTA’s proposal.

Here are a few photos of Staten Island prior to and during the building of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. They are from the Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


The 50th Anniversary of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge Ceremony.  Date: 11.21.2014. Photographer: Sarah Barrett.


View of the Upper Bay of the New York Harbor, circa 1840’s.  Collection of the Staten Island Museum. In this photo – Staten Island, Narrows, Brooklyn, Manhattan.


The Narrows. From Staten Island, New York. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Midland Beach, S.I.  Photographer Unknown. Circa late 1800s. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Midland Beach, S.I. One of the Streets. Photographer: William T. Davis. Date: 9.13.1922. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Isle of Meadows, Fresh Kills, S.I., N.Y.  Photographer: William T. Davis. Date: 5.21.1933. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Happyland Park, South Beach, S.I. Date: Unknown. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Happyland Park, South Beach, S.I. Date: Unknown. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Boardwalk and Beach, South Beach, S.I.  Date: Unknown. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Bungalows at Camp Ideal, South Beach, S.I. N.Y.  Date: Unknown. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Come on in the water is fine at South Beach, S.I. Date: Unknown. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Roller Coaster, South Beach, S.I. Date: Unknown. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Annadale Beach, Staten Island, N.Y.  Photographer: Unknown. Date: Unknown. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Eltingville Beach. Eltingville, Staten Island, N.Y.  Photographer: Unknown.  Date: Unknown.Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


On the Beach, Princes Bay, N.Y.  Photographer Unknown. Circa early 1900s. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Camping Grounds, Woodland Beach, S.I. Photographer Unknown. Circa early 1900s. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


North Pond of Claypit Ponds. July or Early August 1950 Greenridge Staten Island. Photographer: Howard Cleaves.  Date: Unknown. Collection of the Staten Island Museum.


Claypit Ponds Boys from St. Michaels Catholic home after swim in Round Pond.  Photographer: Howard Cleaves.  Date: 6.16.1952.  Collection of the Staten Island Museum.