Happy Birthday to you!
The MTA celebrated the Verrazano Bridge’s 50th Anniversary on November 21 at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island. Hundreds gathered on the chilly morning for a celebration that included MTA officials, former workers who helped built the bridge that was completed in November 1964, members of the FDNY, students from P.S. 22 and others to pay homage to the bridge, 50 years to the day after it officially opened.
During the celebration, officials spoke about their memories of the most heavily traveled of the MTA’s bridges. “For me, the bridge has been like a second home, starting before I began my career in 1981,” said EVP and Chief of Operations James Fortunato, who was the day’s master of ceremonies. “The Verrazano Bridge was a backdrop during my Brooklyn youth, then later as my family and I settled in Staten Island.”
MTA Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Prendergast also shared his personal memories. “When I was a kid, I would build bridges out of popsicle sticks so I have an affinity to this bridge,” he recalled. “When I was a boy growing up, I watched it being built and never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be running an agency that was responsible for it.”
Although local officials such as Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Staten Island Borough President James Otto were scheduled to be in attendance and were listed in the ceremony’s program, they were absent due to their stance against increased fare hikes. (See story on this page.)
“I regret they have declined to attend,” Fortunato said. “This event is about celebrating this magnificent structure and honoring the designers and engineers and workers who helped build it, and those who patrol and maintain it every day.”
Despite the boycotts, the festivities continued, including a performance by the P.S. 22 Chorus, which sang their own tune about the famous bridge and a U.S. Postal Service presentation by District Manager Frank Calabrese, which included a giant version of a stamp commemorating the bridge. A plaque dedicated to those who worked on the bridge was also unveiled. Towards the end, attendees put on earplugs for the 50-gun salute.
Former iron worker on the bridge Eddie Johnson remembered his job as dangerous but rewarding. “It was precarious but I was young and foolish, and I loved the work,” he said. “When my kids were born and were of age to recognize it, they would say, ‘That’s daddy’s bridge!’ That was pretty thrilling. I’m very proud to be a part of it. I just look at it and it’s in my blood. This is just a humbling experience to be here and be a part of this celebration.”
“It united the five boroughs of New Yorkers for the first time,” added Prendergast. “It helped build Staten Island as we know it today and it was instrumental in building the region’s economy.”