Play of the DayPosted: May 1, 2014
The Play of the Day, oh readers of mine, is the play of most of my days here in Cleveland.
One of my favorite things about the city is the Hope Memorial Bridge (more commonly known by its former title, the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge). Finished in 1932, this epic engineering feat crosses the Cuyahoga river between Ohio City, on Cleveland’s near-west side, and downtown, on it’s near-east. Posted at either end of the bridge are four epic sculptures known as the ‘Guardians of Transportation,’ or ‘Guardians of Traffic.’
Each one of these gentlemen, designed by Frank Walker and sculpted by Henry Hering, is a janus-headed figure grasping, between enormous hands, some type of vehicle. One has a carriage, one a construction truck, one an automobile and one an early version of a semi. These huge, stoic, art-deco (and pretty phallic) dudes are my comrades.
I cross the bridge on my daily trek to work. I usually say hello to the guardians on the way in or out of my neighborhood. These wildly handsome concrete pylons always prove a salve to my savage, commuting soul.
They are certainly a mammoth indicator of the city’s industrial apex, and of its ties to a particular moment in art history. But more than that, they are gorgeous pieces of public art that mean something to Clevelanders.* And while their design, which was meant to celebrate the progress of transportation, might have missed its speculative mark in terms of Cleveland’s particular historical trajectory, they none-the-less do carve themselves into the city in an arresting and spectacular way. And I think their power as Cleveland landmarks is as much about what they indicate in retrospect, as it is about what they were meant to mark at the moment of their construction.**
They never respond to my ritual salutation. But I love them. And their indifference does not negate my feeling that they watch over me, and the city, and perhaps all urban travelers, everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I am not the only resident who finds herself speaking to the guardians. I bet they’ve listened to many itinerant wanderers, as they head somewhere in this weird and engaging landscape.
*I have one friend who has a guardian tattooed on his calf. He cannot possibly be the only Clevelander who chose to memorialize his homeland thusly.
**I’ve written in this blog about some of the ways the history of an urban landscape, Cleveland’s more specifically, is sometimes veiled by its public art. The guardians cannot, because of their age and their position in the city, disguise what was misguided in their production. While this may become true for other ventures, the guardians were not built (as what might be called their contemporary equivalents) in the full flush of commodity capitalism. But, as with all speculation of this sort, I could be wrong. Maybe commodity capitalism is only just now beginning to find its real flourish and things like the outdoor chandelier in Playhouse Square will become friendly indicators of a certain moment in aesthetic history. For the sake of us all, I’m going to go ahead and hope not.