Work has started on downtown’s Long-Allen Bridge to bring it back to ‘light.’ The ‘Bakowski Bridge of Lights’ should take four months to complete and until it is, there will be intermittent lane closures. For the next four weeks, one of the eastbound lanes will be closed to traffic. Once finished, the bridge will be lighted, colorful and fabulous.
The structure, also regularly called the ‘Texas Street Bridge’, burst onto the art world in 1993 when then-Mayor Hazel Beard first turned on the neon lights. The art piece was shepherded by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council, and the creation of artist Rockne Krebs, a man who wanted to oversee a ‘striking piece of visual art.’ Krebs, of Washington, D.C., used his experience in light and lasers to create his local work, a piece comprised of mostly red neon tubes interspersed seemingly randomly across the structure. The Long-Allen/ Texas Street Bridge became known as the Neon Bridge, the subject of thousands of photos and stories.
For 23 years, the Neon Bridge stayed mostly lit, but then, more and more tubes started to fail. Neon is a wonderful look, but it is old technology and the stresses on the bridge- the constant vibrations and occasional hailstorms- caused issues. On one of his art blogs, artist Krebs remembered that “the tubes began to fail and be replaced, but eventually the speed at which the neon failed outstripped the maintenance money to replace them.” Just five years after Krebs passed away in 2011, the bridge went dark and has remained so until now.
Enter local optometrist Dr. George Bakowski and wife Sandra. Several years ago, Dr. Bakowski decided the bridge was worth renewing and approached the Downtown Development Authority and Shreveport Regionals Arts Council (SRAC) with a proposal. He offered to donate $1,000,000 to once again light the bridge. It was a generous offer from a man who wanted to do something big to instill civic pride— and it was an offer that was too good to pass up. The timing was perfect because there was studier new LED lighting technology available that could actually be programmed to change color. By then, there were also plans in the works at the state to strip, rehab and repaint the 1934 bridge.
Though the timing was good, it would be foolish to say that all the parts fell easily into place. They did not. There were 1,000,000+ reasons not to move forward. The project needed ‘cat herding’ at the highest level. SRAC Executive Director Pam Atchison and Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation (SPAR) director Shelly Ragle did what they do best- they kept herding. They found other partners to match the $1m Bakowski donation- the Red River Waterway Commission, the Louisiana Public Service Commission, the Downtown Development Authority and private donor Will Atkins- helped. They patiently answered everyone’s many questions, addressed concerns and finally found consensus.
Original donor Bakowski was hoping to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary in 2020 with wife Sandra on ‘their’ new bridge. He missed that anniversary, but is pleased that there will be others— and that the bridge that meant so much to so many and that was a source of pride, will soon be brightly lit again.
Installation of the new lights began Wednesday, Sept. 1 and the hope is the bridge will be bright and colorful again for festivities as 2021 rolls into 2022. Hat’s off to the Bakowskis for their generosity, and to all of those who would not let the dream of a lighted bridge die.
Press Release from Mayor Adrian Perkins announcing the work started Sept. 1, 2021.