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Carnett: A bridge to the past

April 22, 2013|By Jim Carnett

I'm going to miss the Park Avenue Bridge.

Though not an A-lister like the Golden Gate or Sydney Harbor bridges, the Park Avenue Bridge is a graceful and distinctive 100-foot span that connects Newport Harbor's Balboa Island and Little Island.

The narrow 32-foot-wide bridge, which has two lanes for autos with pedestrian walkways bordering each side, was completed in about 1930. It spans the ribbon-thin Grand Canal.

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The Park Avenue Bridge was the first bridge I got to know as a youngster. With its gently arcing span, it seemed to me venerable and elegant. I crossed it hundreds of times as a kid in the late 1940s and early '50s. The bridge, which is now labeled "functionally obsolete," was then in its heyday.

My goal was always to jump from the bridge into the Grand Canal waters below. Sadly, that goal was never realized. For safety reasons, my parents wouldn't allow it. They were obdurate — and wise.

Construction on a replacement is expected to begin in 2015 and be completed late the following year.

Modernization and new technology are almost always good things, but, frankly, for nostalgia's sake, I'm reluctant to part with this striking objet d'art.

I was born at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange in 1945. My family resided on Balboa Island's Marine Avenue for nearly 25 years. For seven years, my parents and I occupied a small upstairs apartment behind my grandparents' home.

We were half a block from the bay front and not much more than a catcher's throw to second base from the Grand Canal.

My first major accomplishment in life occurred at age 4, when I successfully swam the width of the canal at high tide from Balboa Island to Little Island — by myself. It foreshadowed by one year Florence Chadwick's inspiring conquest of the English Channel.

One of my earliest memories –- at about age 3 — is of me walking at my mother's side across that bridge. She pushed a baby stroller with my 1-year-old brother on board.

We'd cross the bridge from Balboa Island to Little Island several times a week and follow the sidewalk around the perimeter of the island in a counterclockwise direction. The journey was probably a little over a mile.

For me, it was a huge adventure. Little Island is only 90 feet across the Grand Canal from Balboa Island, yet visiting there was tantamount to entering a different clime — like going from the Isle of Wight to Antigua.

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