Duke Ellington (Calvert Street) Bridge – Washington DC


The Calvert Street bridge was built in 1935 as part of the completion of the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway project of the 1930s. It was later named for Duke Ellington.

It replaced a streetcar bridge built in the 1890s. Plans for a new bridge were submitted by architect Paul Cret and Modeskji, Masters and Chase engineers in 1931-32, but work was held up by disputes over the proper design (between a single steel arch or multiple concrete arches) and opposition from an architect who had another design approved before World War I.   The concrete design finally won over the Civic Arts Commission in 1933.

A construction contract was finalized in late 1933 by the District Commissioners, who made $575,000 available for construction of the new bridge, including changes in water and sewer mains. Actual construction did not take place until 1935.  

The final cost, however, was $975,000, according to a later report by the DC Department of Highways (Ross 1992, p. 7).  The balance of funds must have come from the federal government, which still controlled the District of Columbia.  The money could have come from either Congress or the Public Works Administration (PWA). Further clarity on this point is needed.

The Calvert Street Bridge is 825 feet long, 128 feet high and 84 feet wide.  It is faced with Indiana limestone and has three graceful 156-foot arches, consistent with the look of other bridges over Rock Creek. 

There are four sculptural reliefs on the abutments measuring three feet high by four feet wide. These classical reliefs by Leon Hermant, who had worked with Paul Cret before, represent the four modes of travel: rail, water, air and auto.  Cret described the allegories:  “[Rail is] a male figure, typical of the powerful modern steam engine, flying over the network of tracks covering the country. He holds the Caduceus emblem of trade”; [shipping is] “a female figure, symbol of the smooth motion of ships over oceans and rivers;”  [air travel] “a youth soaring over the clouds, represents the daring and earnestness of this new achievement….[and] the speedy automobile which replaced the old vehicular traffic over our highways, is represented by a woman leaning over a chassis.”

In 1974, the bridge was renamed after Duke Ellington, the great African American band leader and native of Washington DC, soon after his death.


Source notes

Amy Ross, Calvert Street Bridge (Duke Ellington Bridge), HAER No. DC-23. 1992. https://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/dc/dc0700/dc0760/data/dc0760data.pdf


“$1,158,000 D.C. roads program set,” Washington Post, March 23, 1941, p. B1

Project originally submitted by Richard A Walker on January 20, 2020.

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Location Info

Calvert Street, NW
Washington, DC 20008

Coordinates: 38.9234, -77.0490

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